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“I Forgot to Pay Attention in High School”

Giving career advice is like telling people what to wear to church - it's unwelcome, often unnecessary and frequently irrelevant. However, sometimes I’m asked "what should I do for a living?" and I never hesitate to plunge right in.

Become a subject matter expert at something. Career advice people say "find your passion and you'll never have to work a day in your life." This may be true but finding your passion is not an easy thing to do. Having a love of music doesn't mean you can play the piano. Also, this advice tends to gloss over the level of effort and length of time it takes someone to fully realize their dream. I don't mean to undermine that advice - if that's what you want then certainly chase that dream for all you're worth, just don't be surprised if life gets in the way. If you do choose to chase your passion, don't forget that there are good jobs in all aspects of your dream, from tuning the piano to selling tickets to distributing the sheet music. Not everyone – passionate or otherwise - deserves to be on center stage but that doesn't mean you can't have a fulfilling career in the same field.

I prefer this approach - find something you like to do and become really, really good at it. Become a subject matter expert for three reasons: 1) if you like doing what you do then learning is interesting and can be fun, 2) your competitors are improving their skills too and, 3) many people will pay you well for your subject matter expertise. By the way, every job has buried within it some form of drudgery so don't get discouraged. I'm not sure why but it's true. I've yet to meet a business person whose passion is filling out their expense report every month. We do it because it is a requirement. Don't fight it or put it off - get it done and go back to the things you really like to do.

About the getting paid part - recently I was in need of a plumber on very short notice and on a Sunday afternoon. Fixing the pump that moves material from the basement to the septic system was way beyond my skill set no matter how many YouTube videos I watched. Since "I know a guy" I connected with a plumber quickly. I was mildly curious about what the problem was and how he was going to fix it, and he was willing to talk while he was up to his elbows in stuff. I'm usually interested in how people get involved in their business so I asked him how he came to be a plumber. I figured it might have been a family business. He said "I forgot to pay attention in high school." We both laughed. I probably wasn't the first person to hear that line. He didn't say it in a regretful way and I didn't ask any more questions. He wrapped it up a few minutes later, I paid him just shy of $200 for parts and labor and Sunday afternoon and he was gone.

So, no matter what you wear to church remember this: there are literally hundreds of thousands of really interesting jobs out there that pay much more than a living wage, but only if you are interested in them. Find one and become a subject matter expert. It takes time but you won't regret it. Even if you didn't pay attention in high school.

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