Our Town: Follow your bliss to find a career

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Long Island’s state parks — Part Three

Much can be discerned when hiking on a path in a park on a cold winter’s day. Virginia Woolf discovered the secrets of London whilst street haunting in search of a lead pencil. Henry David Thoreau discovered peace on his walks about Walden Pond. And when I become obsessed with a question, I do what Woolf or Thoreau did and turn to the outdoors to discover an answer.

Lately I have been wondering about the way people choose their career paths. And so, what better way to answer this question than to take a hike and see what I may learn. I picked Bethpage State Park hiking trails and here is what I learned.

STEP ONE: THE PATH. Which path to take is the most critical decision one makes. In terms of hiking, I base my choice upon proximity and weather. Bethpage State Park is close to where I live and the weather was cold and windy, so I chose based upon convenience.
Choosing the path of least resistance is not the impulse one should emulate when attempting to decide upon a career because this choice will be the business of your life or as Virginia Woolf would say “life itself.” Career choices ought to be guided by natural talent, what you tend to enjoy doing and what you’re good at.

Joseph Campbell once advised his students at Sarah Lawrence to “follow your bliss.” If you are good at computers and enjoy them, you ought to be thinking about majoring in computer science. If you are extremely attractive and love being seen on camera, you ought to be thinking about careers like politics, entertainment, acting, dance or teaching. If you are inclined to doodle, paint  or do crafts, you ought to be thinking about design, animation or architecture. If you are the quiet type and are shy around people but like to fantasize, imagine things and create, maybe you should consider book publishing or research. And if you love sports and action, there are loads of jobs in the field of sports management and sports journalism. In other words, the choice should be based upon what you love to do and not what appears to be the easiest path to take.

STEP TWO: THE GATEKEEPERS. When I drove up to Bethpage State Park, there was a toll booth there to check my credentials and let me through. This is normal. This is expectable. This is fine. And when you enter your chosen career pathway, you will also need to have gatekeepers who open the gate for you and let you enter. This may be a parent, an uncle, a mentor, a former teacher, a coach, etc., etc. This is the way of the world. Do not feel guilty about this. This is part of life and is as it should be.

STEP THREE: THE DREAM. When I embarked upon my hike, I had a vision of how wonderful, magical, breathtaking, transcendent and fun the hike would be. It would be “Tom’s Excellent Adventure.” Of course, this is not exactly what occurred. Let’s face it. It’s January in New York. No leaves, no greenery, no warm sunny sky upon my freckled face. Indeed, there was fresh air and a sense of freedom but nothing that I would describe as magic. And this is also as it should be. And so, it is with your career path, especially at the beginning. It will be mundane with meager income and very few moments of magic. But that does not mean you should give up on the dream of fun and fame and fortune. These lovely fantasies are needed to keep you going through all the grunt work.

STEP FOUR: THE PACE. When I hike, I try to pace myself and enjoy the sights and sounds of the trail I’m on. This is why we hike. And this ought to be how you approach your career journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re dreaming of being a big-league ballplayer or the next Silicon Valley entrepreneur, the attitude should be that I will have fun along my path. If you grind or rush and worry your way through, you will burn out long before the end is obtained.

STEP FIVE: THE END POINT. I finished my little hike in time to get home and have some nice chicken soup. I felt relaxed and refreshed. The end point of one’s career path should also be refreshing and relaxing and filled with the feelings that it was not only a job well done but also lots of fun. As well.

EPILOGUE: Robert De Niro was a speaker at a conference for gifted adolescents and a kid from the audience raised his hand and asked what advise he would give to a young aspiring actor. De Niro simply stated: “I‘ve found that if you just show up to where you want to be and give it a good try, it usually works out pretty well.”

This may sound trite, but in fact it’s sage advice. If I think back at my teen years, I really didn’t have a clue about things, least of all sport psychology. But I persevered and held onto my dream of working with superstars and, lo and behold, as I look back I see that I’ve been on many national TV shows, I’ve been featured in The New York Times, The London Times and The Wall Street Journal, I’ve worked with professional teams and now work with larger-than-life athletes on a daily basis. And all that was made possible not because I’m so smart or so lucky but largely because I had a dream that I fell in love with and kept on believing in. And that is exactly what can happen to you if you simply pick a dream and hold fast to it.

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