Updated on 06.27.11

Career Dreams – In Three Parts

Trent Hamm

What will I do with my life? How will I leave my mark on the world?

These questions have been a constant part of my life since I was very young – and it’s still a guiding question in my life. Now that I’m a parent to three children and a mentor to other adults, I can see clearly how the same thoughts float through the heads of others.

What will I do with my life? How will I leave my mark on the world?

Let’s look at those questions through the stories of three people and see where they lead.

Her Dream
Right now, I’m serving as something of an informal mentor to a 19 year old young woman who is incredibly passionate about photography. She’s one of those types who can spend hours examining lenses and she’s beginning to develop an innate sense of lighting, framing, and lens selection.

She rarely spends even a few hours of freedom without getting out her camera and taking pictures of whatever she finds, putting her composition skills to work. The past few times I’ve seen her with her camera out, I’ve just enjoyed watching her work with the same enjoyment I take watching anyone performing something they love with skill.

Here’s the challenging part: while photography is something she deeply enjoys, she’s unsure whether or not it’s something she actually wants to make a career out of.

Instead, her path to her dream is through a side business, one where she’s not reliant on it for income and can scale it back when she wishes. Right now, she’s building a client list and has taken on a healthy number of professional jobs, and is slowly expanding operations into marketing and promotion.

However, her major in college is business-oriented. She’s not majoring in anything directly related to photography at all. Instead, her studies will make it possible for her to find a role in a corporate structure while also building a small business around her photography passion.

She’s using her career to support her talent and passion.

His Dream
Another young man, aged eighteen years, is about to start college. He’s passionate about music. He has some dreams of being able to play music professionally for a living, with his backup plan revolving around teaching music.

His path to his dream is taking advantage of everything his college has to offer. His intent is to bury himself in his music while in school, not only maximizing his skill, but trying to gain exposure.

His coursework will be fairly easy and not highly time consuming as he is focusing on education classes and a fairly low credit load. His spare time will be used to improve his skills and to build connections and a following by meeting other musicians, sharing his music online, and being involved in the music community on campus.

He’s using his collegiate years to open every possible door.

My Dream
All throughout my early life, I dreamed of writing for a living. I have always felt most at peace when communicating through the written word, whether reading it or writing it.

When I attended college, however, I didn’t believe that such a path held a real future for me, so I studied the sciences and got a high-paying job out of college.

Even after that, however, I spent my spare time reading and writing until I eventually found some success with my writing after years of failure. When that foundation was strong enough, I made the leap into the long-term career I had always dreamed of.

I used my first career to lay a foundation for a second career utilizing my talents and passion.

What Does This All Mean For You?
The biggest lesson is that there are many, many paths to making your career dreams a reality. You don’t have to start off in that career path or plan your entire life around it.

However, there are a few central elements all of these stories have in common.

All three of these people dream of doing something they enjoy with a significant amount of their time. One person loves photography. Another loves music. Another loves writing. I have friends who love everything from packing meat to programming computers. Find whatever productive thing there is that just feels right to you and that you love doing as much as possible and do it. Don’t worry about the long term plan.

All three of these people have spent a lot of time “woodshedding.” By woodshedding, I mean that they’ve engaged in this activity they love for a long time without any profit. The young woman has taken tens of thousands of photographs without a dime of compensation. The young man has practiced his music for thousands of hours, again without compensation. I’ve written far more words without compensation than I’ve ever written for compensation.

We do these things because we’re passionate about it. We love doing them so much that we’ll spend our time doing them anyway just because we enjoy it so much. When you find something that you’ll do for years and years without any compensation at all, you’re probably onto something that may earn you a great deal of compensation – or at least a career ticket – later on.

All three of these people share what they make. The young woman I mentioned is perhaps the newest to this, but she’s now sharing photographs by the bucketload online. The young man has a healthy pile of his music out there on YouTube and on other websites. You’re reading The Simple Dollar, which is my writing shared quite freely.

All three of these people are on different life trajectories. One is likely to become a music teacher. Another person is heading straight for middle management. Yet another is self-employed and deeply involved in parenting. It doesn’t matter what your path is – you can find room for what you want to be doing.

These traits seem to be common among anyone who has a dream and a passion. They’re passionate about something, so passionate in fact that they’ll do it for free. They share what they make with the people around them. They’re doing this no matter what path their life seems to be following.

What’s holding you back from doing the same?

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  1. Allie says:

    “His coursework will be fairly easy and not highly time consuming as he is focusing on education classes”

    Spoken like someone who never majored in education.

  2. Riki says:

    Allie — I thought the very same thing! I was extremely busy during my B.Ed. years.

  3. Johanna says:

    I’d be interested in seeing where these young people are 10 or 15 years from now, to see if they’re still passionate about photography and music. From the time I was their age (15 years ago) until now, my “passion” has changed many times. I can count at least half a dozen. I’m glad I didn’t try to build my whole life around any one of them.

    And my current job, although it’s interesting and (sometimes) fun, is not something I’d do for hours and hours if I didn’t get paid. Fortunately, I do get paid.

  4. Kim says:

    Another teacher completely offended by the easy course load comment. Hey Trent, isn’t your wife a teacher?

  5. valleycat1 says:

    For her, I would think that a business degree would be entirely appropriate for helping her maximize her side business or take it to the next level.

    For him, if he’s considering being a teacher, I advise he prioritize his education case load to at least the same level as his interest in music. I work in education, not as a teacher, but was also surprised at Trent’s toss-away comment about it being totally undemanding. Although I think he may have been focusing on the young man’s intent to apparently go part time (taking a ‘fairly low credit load’).

  6. Love this post–it is a great illustration of how motivation and persistence flow naturally when a person is doing what they are most passionate about. If we all could listen to this little voice of passion (rather than try to override it, as many of us do), the world would be a healthier place.

  7. Cindy says:

    My job philosophy has 3 parts. 1) Be caustious about turning a passion into a job because you give the ability for that passion to be recreation. I know some careers need the passion (sports, performance musician, actor) but many others become a tough way to lose a passion about your favorite thing. 2) You do have to like whatever the doing part of your job is about, people job, technical job, creative job, medical, etc. etc. 3) Every job has a few days when it is just a job.

  8. Sarah says:

    As someone who majored in the hard sciences, I must tell you that everyone who has a hard science degree thinks that every major that is NOT a hard sciences is probably “pretty easy”. So educators, don’t take it personally. ;)

    I’m not saying it is true. Besides, don’t you think engineers are arrogant know-it-alls? That reputation is slightly deserved, at least when it comes to passing judgment on college majors. :)

  9. kristine says:

    “His coursework will be fairly easy and not highly time consuming as he is focusing on education classes”

    Spoken like someone who never majored in education.” Ditto that. I already had an undergrad in design, and a masters in interactive art (computer based) and a long pro history in the arts, and in training m staff on computer art programs.

    I thought it was ridiculous that NY state required me to get a SECOND masters to teach art, because I did not minor in Ed as an undergrad (they did not do allow that at many top art schools when I studied). I figured it would be a cake walk. Not so, especially in the class that required lengthy analysis of various pedagogies and how they overlapped or were related to various schools of philosophy- Kant, Nietsche, etc. Or the full 300 page curriculum for our subject each student had to write over a 3-month stretch- for ONE class. Or the child development class that required about 40 outside hours of qualitative research before even beginning the reports. Or the student teaching that was an hour and a half away, followed by hours of reports, and self-evaluations. And I write fast.

    What a thoughtless comment. Maybe in some crappy little college that crack might be true, but not for the majority of ed programs.

  10. kristine says:

    Oh, just a note. The WSJ had an article last year about the commpn traits of highly successful artists and photographers in the 20th century. Warhol being the first example they cited that comes to mind.

    The one universal trait- they never, ever, sold their work at a low price. They started high, and stayed high, and it created demand. They never gave away art, not until already rich. Picasso had the famous incident of the napkin signature for a waitress when he said- that’ll be 10,000. But he was a bit of a …

    Just sayin. A friend who ran a NYC gallery on 57th sent me the article, and said- “Yes, yes, yes! Stop giving away your work-art is all about prestige, and you devalue yourself when you give it away or sell it cheap. Galleries won’t touch you if you do.” So if this girl wants to photo weddings- no matter. If she wants to be a serious fine art photographer- it matters.

    Not to mention, good amateurs who post on flicker (flicker terms allow them to mine and sell photos, and the photog does not know or get a dime in the money exchanged.) undercut the very profession they hope to be a part of, driving down prices. Most pro photogs I worked with as an art director now have day jobs (people who shot for Getty, and did photoshots with famous authors-not schlubs- insanely talented people making 5K a day) and can no longer spend all their time on that passion, as a result of the glut of free photos online. That’s a loss to us all.

    I suggest you watch Harlan Ellison’s “Dreams with Sharp Teeth” (not with kids around- he is colorful), to see how this also effects your own profession. Ask your library to get it. (Harlan Ellison has won Hugos, Nebulas, and is a Grand Master).

  11. Jules says:

    Oh come on, guys: the kid’s 18–meaning freshman year. He’s probably just finished getting his pre-reqs out of the way. Let him indulge in the fantasy of an easy major for a little more :-)

    I ran into an event photographer at a career fair once and asked him how he got started. He said, “Well, I just got started” and then proceded to rant about how shitty photography is as a career. His income has dropped by half in the past 5 years. Just something to consider.

  12. Prime says:

    I always knew I wanted to write, to become a journalists and from the v beginning, despite the absence of a journ degree (I’m a polsci grad), i applied and got a job as a journalist.

    But I always wanted to become a travel journalists. thing is, there’s no money there. So like Trent, I’m building on my existing career (biz journ) to do what I love (travel writing/blogging)

  13. Johanna says:

    @Sarah: “As someone who majored in the hard sciences, I must tell you that everyone who has a hard science degree thinks that every major that is NOT a hard sciences is probably “pretty easy”. So educators, don’t take it personally.”

    I actually don’t know anyone who majored in “the hard sciences” (what, all of them?), but as someone with more science degrees than most people, I’ll say that I do *not* think that non-science classes are “pretty easy.” At least, not for me – all of my lowest grades in college came in my non-science classes (even including an education class!) Reading hundreds of pages every week and writing multiple 20-page term papers? No thank you. Give me problem sets and lab reports any day.

  14. Nate says:

    Whenever I read articles like this I think to myself “Why can’t I have something that I’m passionate about that could translate into a job someday?” I get jealous of people who have a clear vision of their passion and how they cant anslate that into work. I have yet to determine how spending time with my family and listening to music (my two passions) can translate into a paying gig.

  15. Kim says:

    Sarah- My first degree was in elementary special education. I am now working on a second degree in nursing. I just took Anatomy and Physiology and microbiology. I considered them to be much easier that the extremely writing intensive education courses I took with my first degree. I have no idea why people think that to teach a small child you only have to be educated to the level of a small child. Teaching is a difficult field requiring finesse and a tremendous amount of specialized knowledge.

  16. GayleRN says:

    If the young man is planning on majoring in music or music education he should be aware that you do not choose to major in music. You must audition and the school decides if you can major in music. If he isn’t spending several hours a day in practice and taking private lessons and at least occasionally getting a paid gig I can pretty much guarantee he won’t cut it in a music program. I would suggest a mentor who is actually in the business would be beneficial.

  17. Earth MaMa Jo says:

    I believe, for anyone who wants to have their own business, that business courses are a real necessity. I especially believe this for folks who freelance or want to have a sole proprietorship. I only started believing this when I began freelancing myself and found that the folks who hired me knew their craft but knew nothing about running or operating a business. My business degree prepared me to not only help these people, but helps me run my own affairs. I’m not saying everyone needs a business degree, but a few specific courses will raise the awareness and knowledge a person needs to be successful at their own business (that and being good at what they do). If there’s anything I’ve also become aware of in the last 10 or so years, is that people need to be creative and flexible in their ideas about earning money. You never know when you might have to shift gears and focus on different talents to bring in a paycheck.

    My 2 cents.

  18. Sarah says:

    Kim – I do believe you, I’m just pointing out that the misconception is not an uncommon one unique to Trent.

    johanna – Not all of them, just any of them. (Obviously…)

  19. Johanna says:

    @Sarah: Yes, obviously. My tongue-in-check point is, why say you majored in “the hard sciences,” when you actually majored in some specific one (or two or three) of them, and you could just as easily say which one it is? Or, just say “science,” which most people will assume means natural science (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) as opposed to social science?

    I know that the “hard” in “hard science” means “quantitative,” as opposed to the “soft sciences,” which are non-quantitative. But my theory is that people who like to talk about having studied “the hard sciences” do so because they like the association with “hard” meaning “difficult” (thereby implying that people who study them must all be super-smart). And I have to say, you’re not exactly disproving that theory.

  20. Allison says:

    I’m pretty sure music education is one of the most difficult majors around… I know several people who tried and failed to finish that one.

  21. Sarah says:

    It doesn’t imply “hard” vs. “easy”, but “hard” vs. “soft”. It is just a phrase, and generally a well-understood one that isn’t offensive (in my mind at least – but apparently that is not universal).

    You must admit quantitative science takes one kind of skill that not everyone has – but so do most other majors.

  22. Gretchen says:

    Nor do I belive it’s anywhere easy to find a job teaching music.

    None of the music education majorsI know (roomates and floormates with many) actually teach music.

  23. Johanna says:

    @Sarah: Well, you’re the one who said “everyone who has a hard science degree thinks that every major that is NOT a hard sciences is probably “pretty easy”” (which is false, as I said). So you’ve already said that you think “hard sciences” are more difficult than other subjects, so you’ll have a hard time convincing me that your use of the term “hard science” has nothing to do with that.

    Not everyone uses the term “hard science.” It’s not part of my vocabulary or of the vocabularies of any of the scientists (or other folks with science degrees) that I know in person. Maybe it’s more common in some science circles than in others?

  24. Sarah says:

    Yes, I’m convinced it is an extremely common perception (true or not). “Everyone” should not be taken literally.

    I rarely use the phrase either, as there isn’t much reason for it to come up in conversations. I suspect I used it here because I’ve read Trent describe his education as such, and that’s about all i know about his schooling.

    Still, the meaning is generally understood. I’ve never heard anyone express any sort of opinion about the phrase at all, and am surprised it is so controversial to you.

  25. katy says:

    Music education is one of the most ridiculous, difficult majors there is. 15 credits as a music ed major translates to 8 or 9 classes in a single semester, most of which are worth a single credit but require just as much (if not more) lecture time and study time as the 3 – 4 credit gen eds that you also have to take. The last semester my husband was a music ed major (before switching to another field) he took 12 classes for 15 credits. Where I went to music school, education majors were told that the degree would take a solid 5 years. I managed to finish my performance degree in 4, but only because I took 18 hours per semester and knocked out gen eds during summer school.

  26. David says:

    “All science”. Ernest Rutherford is reported to have said, “is either physics or stamp-collecting.” Carried to its logical conclusion this implies that there ought to be a Nobel Prize for Philately, which as yet there is not. But Rutherford was a physicist, though this did not cause him to reject the Nobel Prize for Chemistry on the grounds that this was not a science.

    Rutherford also remarked that “it [the splitting of the lithium atom] was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine.” Perhaps it is as well that he stuck to physics, or he might have opined that the unique Swedish stamp currently valued at over two million dollars was “a very yellow kind of thing, almost worthless.”

  27. Telephus44 says:

    @#14 Nate – I actually know exactly how you feel. Whenever I read these “find your passion” kind of article, I always feel a little defective because I don’t have a “passion” – I’ve never felt like I had one, and spent many years searching for one. One book that I found really helpful was The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. It’s a great book with a different perspective on the idea of finding (and persuing) one’s “passion.”

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