Beware of this Insidious Dream Destroyer

Many people find comfort by seeing the world in black and white. Some people have the courage to see shades of gray. A few, remarkable souls, see the entire color spectrum and boldly use what they see to craft their lives. These are the people who shape our world and propel civilization forward.
-Mark Swain, from Thoughts on Life and Living

When I was a young man contemplating a career, the high school guidance counselor told me that my testing results had revealed that I could choose virtually any career I wanted and be successful. That was both empowering and discouraging, because I didn’t have a clue how to really choose wisely at the time.

Subsequently, I received a lot of advice from a lot of different people. Some of that advice was helpful, and some of it was plain bad. One such piece of bad advice I was given by various people was very insidious and had the power to destroy dreams—as I soon discovered. It went like this:

When choosing your life’s work, you have two choices. You can either choose something you enjoy doing, or you can choose something that will make you a good living.

I can distinctly remember hearing this “wisdom” stated in a variety of ways to me. In fact, since I was contemplating studying art and becoming a professional artist at the time, this concept was taken one step further with me. I was constantly asked: You don’t really want to be a “starving artist,” do you?

Well, I ended up pursuing a career in sales and marketing—me, a guy who had once been offered an art scholarship!—because I decided I didn’t want to become a “starving artist.”

To this day, I shudder to think of how many potential artists the world has lost because of such ill conceived advice.

Unfortunately, this particular advice hasn’t just steered people away from careers in the arts, but from many worthy and fulfilling pursuits.

A number of years ago, I had a client who came to me for career counseling. I started our session the same way I start every first session. I asked him, “What do you ‘want’ to do now with your life?” Well, as you probably know, when most people lose their jobs, they don’t begin their explorations by thinking about what they “want” to do with their lives, but about what they “have” to do, “must” do, or “should” do. This man was obviously depressed, because he didn’t even look up at me to answer my question, but responded in a sad monotone, “I’ve been a Human Resources Manager for 25 years, so I guess I better find another job in human resources.”

I started to laugh—and then he started to laugh, looked up at me, and said, “I guess that wasn’t very convincing, was it?” I said, “Not only that, but you didn’t answer my question. My question was: “What do you want to do now with your life?” He thought about it for a minute, and then sheepishly asked, “You mean if I could be anything I ‘wanted’ to be?” I said, “That was the question!”

Now, if you’ve never seen a human being go from a depressed state to a manic one in less than five seconds, it’s a real treat! This man sat straight up, and with a big smile on his face said, “Oh, I’d be a pilot! I own two airplanes, I’m a licensed flight instructor, I spend all my free time at the airport, I love the smell of aviation fuel, etc., etc.” I made a “time out” sign and said, “Hey, slow down!”

I then looked him in the eyes and said, “I have a really dumb question for you. Why aren’t you a pilot?” He looked down as he quietly responded, “Because that’s not realistic.” Now, do you think he really believed that, or do you think he picked up that “stinking thinking” from someone else? That’s right. He picked it up from some “authority figure” along the way. I then asked him to explain to me who was flying all the airplanes I saw in the sky daily. “A whole lot of people must think flying is a viable career.” I said.

Well, long story short, two weeks after this discussion, this man called me on the phone, and emotionally thanked me for “giving him permission” to live the life he should have started 25 years earlier. Then he told me that he had found a job as a pilot, flying the same route every day, sleeping in his own bed every night, and getting paid more money than he’d ever made in his life as a Human Resources Manager. Imagine that…

Every time I conduct a career planning/job search workshop, I ask the participants, “How many of you are considering more than one option going forward?” Consistently, 65-75% of participants raise their hands—regardless of their previous job title!

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that surveys consistently find that a great number of people do not like their jobs. For example, a current Gallup study on the American workforce found that 51% of full-time employees are not engaged (don’t feel a connection—do the bare minimum) at work. Another 16% are “actively disengaged” (resent their jobs, complain, gripe and bring down the morale)—and the statistics are even worse in some other countries like Japan!

Can there really be so many “bad” jobs?

Let’s go back and take a closer look at that insidious advice many of us were given when we were choosing our careers—advice that had the power to destroy dreams:

When choosing your life’s work, you have two choices. You can either choose something you enjoy doing, or you can choose something that will make you a good living.

Those who have studied formal logic know that there is a tool used by many to sway people in an argument, which does not stand up to scrutiny when closely analyzed. It is called a “false dichotomy.” By definition, a false dichotomy is when someone presents two alternatives as the only viable options, when there may be additional alternatives available—like being able to do what you love doing AND making a great living doing it! This tool has been used very successfully, throughout history, to funnel the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people in a desired direction.

That insidious advice many of us were given on how to choose a career was a false dichotomy! It has been used extensively in the past—and is still being used today (shame on us!)—to steer people towards careers that are, in many cases, not a good fit at all!

Too many people deciding on a career, use a formula that is simply not effective, because it is built on that false dichotomy:

Factor one: Can I do it? + Factor two: How much money does it pay? = My choice for a career.

When you are looking for something as important as your life’s work, your search formula had better have some additional factors in it if you want to be both successful and happy. Of those additional factors, none is more important than “Passion.” Do you enjoy doing that particular kind of work?

Do you want to know why so many people don’t like their jobs? Start by analyzing how many of them are not doing something they truly enjoy. I believe you will find a direct correlation.

I will save the topic of “Passion” about one’s work for a future blog, but for now, I highly recommend a book that was published years ago, that was a seminal work on the importance of choosing work you love. It is titled, “Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow,” by Marsha Sinetar:

Ms. Sinetar’s book was a huge influence on my thinking, and I believe many of you will find it enlightening. Happy reading!

-Mark Swain

Daily Renaissance, LLC, offers Career Planning and Job Search Coaching—including a Resume Writing Service.


5 thoughts on “Beware of this Insidious Dream Destroyer

  1. Mark, As you know, I have interviewed hundreds of people for my business. My second question is, “What is your career path?” Wow! you should see all the varied answers. Some I help and some not. The career path I set them on is… from Executive (job), to independent contractor (they taste some freedom if good at what they do) and then to owning their own Executive Consultancy. They all vary in their financial commitments and some cannot move to a life of freedom and wealth because of early poor choices. I know what they say… it is sad. I even had someone dear to me bash my passion every day. To passion and freedom. David Whipple

  2. In 1979, I distinctly recall you saying, “Michaelangelo couldn’t get an A in the U of U Art Department”, as you changed your major to Phychology”. I should have relied on a counselor in college, I probably wouldn’t have pursued two degrees in business.
    BTW, I loved every job I had during my 24 years in the USAF and at Missile Defense Agency! I would have liked to be a pilot. Merry Christmas Mark!

    1. Rod, my academic journey was very disheartening when it came to art. Against advice from many, I decided to pursue my study of art. During my freshman year, I was actually required to take a course–for three quarters–titled “Freshman Orientation.” The focus of the “course” was to convince us students that we were crazy to be studying art, because we would never find a job when we graduated. Can you believe that!

      One person who encouraged me was Professor Beck, who sponsored me for an art scholarship. He spoke to me in confidence, and told me that I didn’t even need to complete art school to be an “artist,” because I already possessed the talent to make a living selling my work.

      Well, as you know, I became very disillusioned with all the conflicting advice, and I transferred to the school of business. I got great grades, but had no passion for subjects such as accounting. I ended up studying psychology so I could quickly obtain a degree and enter a sales and marketing career for the Bell System. The rest, as they say, is history.

      Rod, I am happy that you found joy in your career in the Air Force. I’m certain that you were a valued asset to that organization, because you’ve always been a hard working and conscientious person.

      Thanks for the Christmas wishes. I wish the same for you and your family.

  3. I enjoy your blog. I always find something new to learn. I was in college contemplating what I would like to do. I’m so happy I chose teaching elementary school. For 28 years I loved my job. No, I didn’t make a lot of money but I loved going to work. I loved my students and their sweet hugs and notes. My parents really wanted to be a nurse. They were thrilled to hear how happy I was at work. I’m sure I would have enjoyed being a nurse but my passion was teaching. The day I retired I shed some tears. I cried even more as I walked of my room, my home, for so many years.

    1. And what a teacher you were (are) Connie! Your influence on my daughter, Becca, was one of the main reasons she decided to become an elementary school teacher! I am so happy that you had the courage to follow your passion and be a teacher. You are one of the people who truly understands the core message of this particular Blog post.

      Thank you for your kind words regarding my Blogs. I really do enjoy sharing the lessons I have learned in life with others.

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