“Their interests section isn’t important- don’t include it. Thanks.”
Swallowing a sigh, I deleted the offending line from the resume.
For the past month, I have been freelancing and temping to pay the bills while I search for my next full time position. A lot of that work has involved receptionist and office admin duties including the task of editing and reformatting client resumes for internal review at an executive level headhunting agency. After reviewing the resume of one prospect who felt compelled to relay his love of rock climbing right next to his real estate experience, I felt a sense of solidarity with this stranger.
As someone currently on the job market herself I have frequently found myself frustrated by the feeling of being reduced to the lines on my resume (which can be viewed HERE, in case you are curious). Don’t get me wrong- I’m proud of all the skills I’ve cultivated through my training in college and my first jobs. However, as I stared again at the plastic white lilies across the room from my receptionist desk I wondered how we can possibly attain jobs in alignment with our authentic selves when the lines on our resumes portray only part of who we are.
Part of me fears that this thinking came from falling prey to the infamous millennial sense of entitlement to job satisfaction that our society loves to hate. Simon Sinek’s famous rant about millennials in the workforce does a fair job of addressing the issue without demonizing us millennials outright. He attests that the challenges we face when seeking job satisfaction include coping with learned impatience from the instant gratification of our “swipe right” culture and the belief that we are all “special” and could become “anything we wanted” that we were taught growing up. While I don’t think this is untrue, I do think that it disproportionately applies to those coming from a more privileged background. It also overlooks what in my mind is a critical distinction:
The problem is not that we were told that “you can be anything”- it’s that by and large we have misinterpreted this to mean “you can be everything”.
In talking with my peers, many of whom I would consider extremely smart and hard working, I’ve felt that what’s lacking when it comes to our careers is not drive, it’s decision making. Decisions, when backed with a strong personal “why”, naturally call upon our capacity for dedication and discipline. I can’t tell you how many twenty-somethings I’ve encountered (myself included) whose time and attention has been splintered between a number of passions and possibilities for their future without any concrete goals. They bounce from wanting to become a teacher one day, to an actress the next, then toy with the idea of becoming a travel agent, and…you get the picture. How can you pursue what you want when you won’t decide what it is? Clinical psychologist Meg Jay describes this quarter life crisis well in her book The Defining Decade.
Perhaps as we fight the feeling that our work reduces us to our resumes, we fail to embrace that not every one of our passions is a viable full-time profession for us. This is not a terrible thing! The world more likely than not won’t afford us a job that captures everything we want to be in life- this applies even if we create our own business. It’s up to us to choose to not to tie ourselves too much to our titles. In theory, we could start side hustles for any number of our interests- but for every passion we pursue, we further divide our resources of time, money, and attention. That’s a fact.
Don’t hear me wrong- there is a reason why on my own portfolio my headline contains all of my main “slashes”. I believe 1000% that our passions and idiosyncrasies add tremendous value to our work. This is true of all people – and especially of giants in their respective fields.
Two of the books I have read in the past year have touched on this topic. In Originals: How Non Conformists Move The World , Adam Grant observes how some of the most innovative scientists, leaders, and artists alike have made stunning breakthroughs despite coming from professional backgrounds in wildly different arenas. Martin Luther King jr. aspired to become the president of a university until he was called upon by his community to lead the Montgomery bus boycott. Grammy-winning guitarist and songwriter Brian May left behind a doctorate program in astrophysics to go all in with Queen. In Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, Guy Kawasaki attests that the most enchanting people always have eclectic interests, from actress Geena Davis’s talent in archery to Tim Ferris’s for breakdancing. Even Einstein, who we know as history’s most famous theoretical physicist, was also an amateur violinist.
What all these wildly successful individuals have in common is that, despite having many passions, they made their mark by deciding what was ultimately worth the majority of their energy. As Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less ,“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” This is why I’m beginning to believe that the message that we all ought to “follow our passion” is deeply flawed- very few of us have just one! We must be willing to commit to at least one big goal for our future to gain clarity of the most essential actions to propel us forward. Those big goals tend to come from a place far more precious than passion.
Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes as well as one of the clearest examples of an essentialist that I can offer. While famous for his work as the cheerful and compassionate host of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, one of the most influential children’s television shows of all time, he was also a jazz pianist and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He decided to create children’s television because when he first saw what kind of children’s content was being broadcast when he was a young adult in the 1950’s he “hated it so”. He resolved then and there that his purpose was to produce meaningful media for children that focused on building their emotional intelligence. His purpose was so powerful that he would go on to to testify in front of congress in its name.
Fred Rogers’s story illustrates how pinpointing our purpose puts passion into perspective. While neither were the primary focus of his programming, both his love for music and his faith had a huge impact on his work. Utilizing his background as a pianist he became a messenger of music by composing several original songs (including the theme music) for the show, teaching short music lessons throughout the series, and making a point of introducing his viewers to visiting musicians and the band that recorded live on set. While he never spoke to his audience specifically about religion, the deep love and caring that stemmed from his faith defined how he chose to communicate with his young viewers.
By putting his purpose first, he forever changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children simply by being their friend. I strongly believe that his message, that each one of us can be liked “just the way we are” is needed more than ever in an increasingly impersonal world.
As I sit at my receptionist desk taking in my first taste of corporate America (it tastes like crappy Earth-killing kcup coffee), I reflect on the decisions, and the decisions I failed to make, that brought me here. While I worried for years that I made the wrong decision by not pursuing my passion for music, those feelings came to a head in my last position, which was in children’s media but otherwise not aligned with my work values. I began to see music as an escape, and entertained the idea of completely shifting gears to pursue it as a new career. Without making a clear decision, however, I spent countless hours scrolling job openings with no sense of direction. By spinning my wheels, I burned myself out.
While I don’t aspire to be the next Mister Rogers (there is no such thing), I know that I too can have a greater impact if I decide to draw more from my purpose than from the pleasure I get from my passions. I don’t pretend to have this all figured out yet- but I recognize that in pursuing a life beyond the lines, passion and purpose are not the same. By choosing to live from a place of purpose, we don’t abandon our passions- we just come to understand how they make us bold.
In short, I leave you with this powerful quote from the man, the myth, the neighbor himself:
As I aim to share knowledge and make room for more titles in my personal bookshelf I’m gifting my gently worn/ doodled in copies of Essentialism, Originals, and Enchantment to three lucky readers- comment below on this post to claim one of them for yourself!
I look forward to seeing you here for another #ScrambledSunday next week!