Should We All Be Doing Something We Love?

Fun fact. Before I started out in interior design I worked in corporate finance for 17 years.

If you don’t know what corporate finance is then believe me you’re not alone. Most of my closest friends had no idea what I did for nearly two decades of my life. I was literally the Chandler Bing of any group.

Put simply my job involved helping people who own technology companies find a buyer, sell their business to them and make millions in the process.

It was a job I enjoyed for a long time for a lot of different reasons. At the heart of it was research, which was the one thing I came out of University thinking I wanted my career to centre around. But it also involved a lot of meeting entrepreneurial people, finding out about their stories and helping them them to realise the fruits of many years of labour. Something very satisfying about that.

What it wasn’t, in any shape or form, was creative.

So, despite doing only arts related subjects at A Level and studying an Arts subject at University (and being a Pisces for god’s sake), I ended up for 17 years in a career that had little or no connection to the things I spent the first 18 years of my life building a personality around.

So how does that happen? Why is it that so few of us manage to pursue a career that in any way relates to what motivates us?

In 2011 the Office for National Statistics asked a group of young people what career they would like to pursue.  Following up with that group six years on, the survey found that less than 1 in 50 of those twenty somethings were in the career that they had wanted.  Just 1.4% had pursued a career in the creative industries while the vast majority found themselves in sales and marketing, finance, retail, teaching and caring professions.

Another survey by the London Business School found that about half of all adults in the UK are in careers that they don’t enjoy but don’t want to risk a career change.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m fully aware that a lot of the dreams that we have when we’re kids about our future jobs are not brilliantly well thought through.  There can only be so many astronauts and it turns out that bus driving is probably not quite the thrill you thought it might be after all.

That said, the dreams that I had when I was in my early twenties, when I was more aware of what was available to me, weren’t quite so fanciful and yet I didn’t pursue them.

At the time I had just finished a degree in English Literature and writing was the thing I loved most of all.  I did several internships at newspapers but ultimately I didn’t pursue it.  A decision I don’t regret as much as question – what made me so timid about following my heart to do the one thing I knew I loved and what led me instead to something that was so amazingly far away from what I had planned?

One of the big answers is, of course, money.  A career in finance probably seemed like a better bet when penniless and hoping to have enough money to get my own place one day.  And of course, I’m also fully aware that this is one of the key reasons that holds so many of us back from pursuing a career that we truly enjoy.  It’s not as simple as to say I want to be a DJ when you have a mortgage to pay.

For me, however, it definitely wasn’t the only reason.  There’s something about careers advice, and maybe to an extent to the advice of parents, that narrows our range of the possible and makes us believe that some things are just to hard and not worth dreaming about.

Despite making it very clear that I didn’t want to go into teaching (and here I am by no means saying it’s not a brilliant profession, just not for me) the careers adviser at University was at a loss to think of what else someone with an English Literature degree could possibly do with themselves for the next fifty years.  The range of possibilities felt so unbelievably small when actually, looking back, it was vast and varied but just so unknown to me.

Nick Chambers, Chief Executive of the Education and Employers careers charity recently agreed saying that young people’s ambitions tend to be defined by the limited range of jobs they know about presenting an enormous barrier to social mobility.

Fast forward 15 years and despite the fact that I knew I had had enough of Corporate Finance it still took me an age to come to the conclusion that I could, in fact, do something else.  And even longer still to have the belief that that thing could be something that I really loved and that had become a real passion.

And then one day it was like a light switched on, I realised that it was possible and that the main thing stopping me was not the money but my own narrowed point of view.

That’s not to say by any means that it has been an easy ride since then.

I spent nearly a year doing a Diploma in Interior Design in my “spare” time (i.e. my cherished evenings post kids’ bedtimes went out of the window) and I spent even longer saving as much as I possibly could to reduce our mortgage, pay off loans and save a nest egg to allow me sufficient time to get set up.

Even now it is by no means a walk in the park.  Whoever said do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life was actually an idiot.  Even if you love it, it’s still work rather than cocktails with your mates and I now feel every mistake that much more keenly and question myself on a minute by minute basis.

My seven year old says he wants to be a writer when he grows up.  I’m sure we’ll go through another thirty iterations of career choices before he gets to eighteen but if we get there and that’s what he wants to be I’m going to tell him to go for it.  Pursue the dream.  Give it a try.  What’s the worst that could happen?