I’ve actually had two Things that turned out to be not my Thing.
I know I mostly talk about my database programming career as my Thing-that-wasn’t, so if you haven’t been hanging around here for very long, you might not know about my first Thing-that-wasn’t.
Right out of college, I went and taught scuba diving in the Caribbean.
I became pretty unhappy pretty quickly, but I was afraid to walk away from it, for one of the same reasons I didn’t want to walk away from my IT career:
I put a lot of time, money and energy into becoming a scuba instructor. How could I just throw it away for something completely unrelated?
(Aside: For some reason I didn’t struggle a lot with “throwing away” my degree in International Relations/Japanese at the time.)
There’d be no way to get that money, time or energy back. Such. A. Waste.
The realityNothing is wasted.
I know it might not seem that way if you’ve studied to become a doctor and now you want to start a personal chef business. Or a jewelry-making business. Or a copy-writing business.
But here’s what I’ve experienced and witnessed over and over again:
Every experience you have helps you become the person you need to be in order to have your Thing.
My study of Japanese (and spending time in Japan) led me to reject seeking a corporate job out of college, and go to the Caribbean instead.
Getting sick in the Caribbean forced me to go home.
Seeing my sister studying computer science (and struggling with figuring out what was next for me) allowed me to see it as an option for myself.
My time in corporate jobs eventually made me realize how much I value freedom and flexibility. They’re non-negotiable for me.
And the analytical skills I learned while working with databases – and all my other experiences – help me every day when I’m working with clients.
Even if there really is no direct tie between your past experience and the Thing you’re drawn to, there’s always value in every experience you’ve had. Sometimes it just takes a hell of a lot of hindsight to see it.
The ROI question
Someone recently asked me how they could justify not getting a job in their field of study after spending so much money on a degree. They felt they needed to get an acceptable ROI (Return on Investment).
But if you knew – and I mean really knew – your Thing would support you financially, and that you’d wake up most days bouncing out of bed because you couldn’t wait to work on your Thing, would you even care about getting the ROI from your degree?
I think the desire for ROI is not really about the degree (or career, or business) you might walk away from. It’s about not believing your Thing will support you.
Or maybe wanting ROI comes down to wanting to see clearly that what you did was worth it, even if it didn’t make your heart sing.
Nobody wants to feel that something they invested in was for nothing.
What if the degree you got (or the business you built, or the years you spent in that other career) that you feel is not useful for pursuing your Thing was exactly what prepared you to go after your Thing?
I try to avoid getting all Hallmark-y around here, but seriously, would you rather get the ROI from past investments or actually enjoy your life?
Is it easy to give up what you’ve put a lot of time, money and energy into? Of course not.
Do I still occasionally grieve over my lost Japanese fluency? Or catch myself thinking building a database for my business is a good use of my time? Yep.
But. Is it worth it to go after your Thing despite the apparent “waste?” Abso-fucking-lutely.
How about you?
What kinds of stuff have you invested in in the past, that you feel you need to see the ROI from now?
What would achieving an acceptable ROI give you?
What does seeking ROI for something you don’t want cost you?