Today's graduate, just like the rest of us, faces an uncharted world. Creativity, not conformity, is the new security. Booyah.
Back in the Luddite days of "snail mail" and Ford Pintos, we were advised to stick with one career path, and aim for a gold watch. You can stick that advice up your...and in the attic with the rotary phone.
Today, there is no external job security.
But there is a stable way to make it in the world.
Drum roll please: It's called following your passion.
Typical career advice focuses on studying the hot fields and companies in the available job market.
But real career success, involves studying yourself,
more than any job market.
Because today's world isn't about "fitting in" to finite opportunities. It's about waking up to new capacities and needs, stirring the pot, and revealing, creating, designing and divining the infinite opportunities available. And they are available.
Business guru Daniel Pink says, in A Whole New Mind, that we are moving away from the information age to the conceptual age and that "right-brainers will rule the future." He explains, "The keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different person with a very different kind of mind--creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people--artists, inventors designers, story-tellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers--will now reap society's richest rewards." That's because in the emerging culture of rapid change, the world is yours if you stay intuitive and resilient.
I've been a leading career coach for over twenty years now, and I've seen the fall out of 'old school' career thinking. In my own life, a product of this thinking, I chose responsibility over joy. Sure, I was "successful," on the surface, at a major law firm, having graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. But, I could not sustain that kind of success
I was born to be a writer. And the soul's desire to express itself is eventually stronger than the conditioning to maintain equilibrium. A denied desire is a time bomb. Thankfully, I left before a major crisis. But I've seen clients suffer heart attacks, depression and addiction because they chose what they thought was 'security.'
Besides, the velocity of these times demands authenticity.
Our fast-paced world is a 24/7 marathon. If you're not doing work that comes natural to you, you will have to work too hard to keep it up. And you will always have to wrestle too hard to keep your true passions at bay. We used to have more of a buffer to keep our secrets, even from ourselves. But today's pace requires an efficient use of our energy. When you do work that you consider your purpose, it is the most efficient, practical, joyous, and generous thing you can do with your life.
So, here's my idea of a graduation/creative life kit and gift. Of course, I'd give anyone who's graduating---or laid-off or retiring, and graduating into a new phase of their lives--- a brand new copy of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love (Tarcher/Penguin). (And if you really love them, then throw in copies of Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life's Work, and A Year without Fear: 365 Days of Magnificence). I'd also give them this invaluable "tool kit" filled with 5 unconventional totems--designed to reinforce a creative, inspired approach to discovering the right work and the sweetest life:
Forget about looking for a marquee or a map. Throw out "the big plan" or the desire to figure out your whole life ALL AT ONCE. Not happening.
A creative career life is one of following the breadcrumbs, instant by instant, desire by desire. What sounds FUN right now? In my work with clients, I offer "Focus on what has energy for you now. It doesn't have to be forever. What has heat?" One inspired action may lead to the next and the next, and you will find yourself in places you could not have navigated in any other way.
You can't plan an inspired life. This is a path of heart, not head.
If you try to see too far up ahead, you will be frustrated and incapacitated. And you will miss the internal communication or necessary step opening right in front of you. There will always be a breadcrumb. There will always be a next step. There will always be something to do, explore, feel, or heal because your mindset is as important as your actions.
The legendary Apple CEO and maverick leader Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class in college just for fun. Ten years later, that calligraphy class inspired him to create Apple's Mac computer with beautiful typography. A san serif stroke of genius.
Ray Kroc bought a small-scale McDonald's corporation franchise because he wanted to sell milk shake mixing machines. Noticing that this hamburger operation had bought 8 milk shake mixers, he got the creative idea to buy the chain to expand his sales. He followed this next breadcrumb. He hadn't planned on becoming a hamburger company, much less the leading fast food operation in the world. He just paid attention to the next step that revealed itself. We all know those breadcrumbs led to a whole lot of buns.
A Yellow Birthday Candle:
What's your deepest wish? Choose the desire that will stay lit, and hold up this one yellow candle, even when a thousand winds blow. Your true desires have invincible energy. Please don't talk yourself into being what you think is "realistic."
When you compromise your desire, you will compromise your strength.
I've spoken to men and women in their eighties. "I always wanted to write." "I always wanted to sing," they say, wistfully. The desire never went away. They had children, good and bad marriages, sickness, financial challenges, trips to distant ports in the world, and they never lost the desire. That's the thing about your inspired dreams. They may look fragile or frivolous, but they have the power to outlast all other desires.
I tell my clients, "Only the real dream has the power." You can't marshal all your mysterious forces of strength, creativity, and tenacity for a desire you "sort of" want. Mild wants won't do it. You need to follow the wild wants. They will take you on a journey you could never imagine and you don't want to miss. (Go ahead and reassure the practical side of yourself. This "wild want" focus does not need to be exclusive. But it does need to be in the mix!)
I spent 12 years writing my first book This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and faced many rejections and disappointments. I battled the pygmies of self-doubt. But real desire gives you stamina. You can withstand pain and detours, because it's more painful to give up on the desire. Thomas Edison failed thousands of times, before he discovered the light bulb. He had a "yellow birthday candle," the inner summons to invent. He would not have had this same tenacity for a goal he didn't love.
A PEZ Dispenser:
Trust your crazy ideas. Resist the temptation to think "Oh that's stupid," or "That would never go anywhere." You have no idea. Fun runs up ahead and beckons creativity, discovery, opportunity, and success.
I'm offering you a PEZ dispenser as a totem because of the legendary story of how eBay, one of the foremost online revenue generators in the history of the Internet began. In 1995, Pierre Omidyar started eBay from his home so his girlfriend could have a way to trade PEZ (candy) dispensers with others. Aren't you glad that Omidyar didn't just say, "Oh for god's sakes, do you really need another candy dispenser? Can't you do something productive, like become an accountant or work for Walmart?"
Listen within and do not listen to others who do not hear the music. No one knows your path. You won't even know your own inspired path. Gather resources and advice-- but choose what you apply. My advice? Don't take advice from unhappy people. Remember, the truth you listen to determines your whole life.
Steve Jobs had this to say about career advice. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice...have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
In her early career in journalism, Oprah Winfrey was advised to drop the emotional "touchy feely" aspect of her reporting. But Oprah put on her earplugs and chased her strength instead. She didn't listen to those who did not support her innate gift. Now the world listens to her.
Begin anywhere-- and know that your potential is huge, even when your beginnings are small. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn." We live in a culture that celebrates fast, big, and instant success stories. But real success comes from the humility to start wherever you can and remember the magnitude within you. Self- help author Alan Cohen says "Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect."
Academy-award winning film director and movie executive Steven Spielberg ached to work in the movie business. He tried to enroll in college to study film but was repeatedly rejected. Finally, he got an unpaid apprenticeship at Universal Studios. Spielberg says even after his apprenticeship, he snuck into the movie lot in order to learn. "I visited the lot every day I could and got to know people, observed techniques, and just generally absorbed the atmosphere."
Do not wait for the world to welcome you. You have gold to give this world, even when it's not yet recognized. Just find conditions that help you grow. Grab every opportunity. Do an internship. Volunteer your time. And always show up with love. It's not the responsibility of others to honor your gifts. It's yours.
As you toss your graduation caps into the sky, I take off my hat to you. You will inherit this world that is unlike any other time before this time. This is the world that matches you. This is the world you were born for. You have everything you need-- and the world needs what you alone have to give it. You are loved and guided always.