The average American works about 34 hours a week — not an insignificant portion of one’s life. It’s no wonder then that many of us have embarked on what can often seem an unending quest to find a job that makes us truly happy.
“There’s heaps of research out there that shows that the quality of your work affects your well-being and mental health. This has spillover effects for your life outside of work,” says Professor Sharon Parker, Director of the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield. She emphasizes that money is not usually the sole motivating factor behind why people choose to stay in a particular job; more important is whether it’s challenging, exciting and stimulating.
As the work force expands and expectations spiral, the quest to find a job one is passionate about is gaining increasing significance. To help you in your search, we decided to talk to some people who’ve managed to land the job of their dreams and see if they have any advice. One thing they agree on: you’ve got to think big.
Pam Greene – Senior Design Innovator, Nike Considered
What she does: A nineteen-year Nike veteran, Greene’s involvement in the company’s relatively new Considered Group goes back to November of last year. Greene’s work consists primarily of developing sustainable innovations to help Nike reduce its environmental footprint.
Why she loves it: “It’s a true synthesis of a biology background with an innovation and design background.” Further, Nike’s ethos of educating designers by sending them all around the world offers Greene the ability to travel and to keep expanding her knowledge base. Last winter she spent seven weeks in Tokyo, absorbing the marketplace and the aesthetics there. She has also been sent to the beaches of Brazil to study sand sports.
Her career path: With a strong educational background in botany, Greene’s transition into Nike was practically a straight shot. Her first job was at Stanford University’s department of plant ecology, where she studied ecosystems in the California foothills, a position she enjoyed but wasn’t completely satisfied with because it lacked the creativity she craved. She got her interview with Nike through a friend.
Her advice: Greene suggests that students, particularly potential designers, take as broad a range of classes as possible. “An indirect path to where you eventually want to arrive may be better than taking a direct route. As a designer, it’s beneficial to make oneself as eclectic and interdisciplinary as possible… Because while you’re studying algae or even sheep diseases, you never know what information you might get and how that might end up influencing your design work someday.”
Fatal1ty (Johnathan Wendel) – Professional Video Gamer
What he does: A professional video gamer and 12-time world champion, Fatal1ty is also the exclusive commentator for the Championship Gaming Series and the global spokesperson for the league. When prepping for a tournament, he trains for hours a day and watches videos of himself in action. On a typical day he hangs with gamers, trains and practices with them, and goes to the TV studio where he interviews them. As a commentator, he talks about gaming strategy, trying to educate people on TV. At 26, Fatal1ty has had his own company for 5 years, making keyboards, headphones, mouse pads and other products for gamers.
Why he loves it: As he says, Fatal1ty can “never get enough” of what he does. While the pro-gamer admits that it is hard being on the road so much, away from his family and friends, the upside is that he has a friend in every port, and knows people across Europe, Asia, and the United States.
His career path: Fatal1ty started playing games when he was 4 or 5 years old. The first game he played was Ikari Warriors. He also played Mario Brothers and Flight Simulators. He professes an early interest in competitive sports — “that’s what got me to where I am today. There’s definitely a connection between athletics and gaming; every skill one needs in a traditional sport is the same thing in the games I play: reflexes, timing, strategies, hand-eye coordination.”
After playing a few tournaments in his hometown and later around the country, Fatal1ty participated in his first professional tournament when he was 18, bagging third place among players from around the world. He then got invited to Sweden to represent the U.S., and at the age of 18 he became world champion.
His advice: Fatal1ty recommends that potential gamers immerse themselves in the industry: play online tournaments, watch demos, and go to LAN parties to network. People also need to be prepared for hard work. “People who think they should just get things for who they are, are the people who don’t make it… You have to have that extra drive and effort to follow your passion.”
Rebecca Donohue – Stand Up Comedian
What she does: Donohue’s comedic style blends her Colombian-Irish background with her MTV generation upbringing. She has appeared on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Shorties Watching Shorties, A&E’s 15 Films about Madonna, and TLC’s Trading Spaces. Part show producer, booker, performer, website creator, and Fashion Police writer for US Weekly and Cocktail, Donohue wears enough hats to impress a milliner.
Why she loves it: “It’s so much more work than just that ten minutes on stage. I’m up every day at 8 a.m., hustling for work, and then I don’t get back till 2 a.m. sometimes. As a comedian you’re constantly working — you’re 100% an entrepreneur. What you make of it depends entirely on you.” But the results make it worthwhile: “The time on stage keeps me doing all the rest.” For Donohue the thrill is about “the very powerful experience of taking an audience and changing them emotionally somehow.”
Her career path: “I was a very funny, gregarious sort of child; being smart never got you as much cool attention as being funny so I was the class clown. I hadn’t always thought about doing comedy as a career though. You have to come into your calling. People had always told me I was organically funny. I was maybe always meant to do it — but it just presents itself to you and becomes obvious at some point.” Donohue’s “point” was during her undergraduate years at Rutgers University, when she performed in her hometown during summer break, and again at a show on campus that was headlined by Mike Sweeney. After her first few times on stage, she decided she had found her calling.
Her advice: “You have to be honest with yourself to a point where it may almost be painful,” she says. “Because many times when you say, this is what I want to do, everyone around you will look at you like you’ve lost your mind.” At the same time, Donohue cautions that people need to play to their strengths: “I see so many people go after something that clearly isn’t their forte. I would recommend that anyone who wants to find their dream job make it a part-time job to do some deep soul searching and figure out what they’re passionate about.”
Mark Ronson – DJ, Music Producer and Artist
What he does: DJ, producer, artist and bandleader, Ronson’s musical abilities are as diverse as his wildly fluctuating accent. British born and New York based, Ronson has worked as a producer for Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams, and others. He owns Allido Records, a recording studio in Manhattan. He has also released two albums: Here Comes the Fuzz in 2003, and Version earlier this year.
Why he loves it: “I only make music that I enjoy… stuff I care about and am proud of,” says Ronson. “In the record industry, it’s easy to get bogged down and lose vision because of pressures from people — to lose your voice if you’re not headstrong about what you do. I’ve been lucky that what I care about is what ended up catching on.”
His career path: The 29-year old Ronson started playing in a few bands at the age of 14 — one of his bands was called the Whole Earth Mamas, a name that he recalls one of the band members made up on stage. During his time at Vassar he started DJ-ing in Manhattan, eventually dropping out to play full time. He gained a reputation in the city for playing hip-hop, as well as less conventional music like rock and soul. His first break came when a fan who worked at Cheeba sound was impressed enough by the 24-year-old DJ to offer him his first big production opportunity with singer Nikka Costa. This led to a deal that got Ronson his first solo record.
His advice: “…if you want to be an artist use the Internet. Make a cool video and put it on YouTube. There are so many amazing things made possible now with the ‘net and with MySpace and so many ways to get your music out there. I do a radio show every Friday and I scour MySpace for demos for things to play. If someone sends me a message on MySpace I am so much more likely to play it than if it’s a CD in the mail.”
James M. Clash — Adventure Columnist, Forbes Magazine
What he does: Jim Clash has climbed the Matterhorn, skied to the South Pole, taken a MiG ride to the edge of space, driven Indy cars at more than 200 mph, climbed virgin peaks in Greenland and Antarctica, and made two visits to the North Pole — all in the name of work. A seasoned journalist with a seemingly bottomless reserve of energy, Jim Clash covers mutual funds and extreme adventure for Forbes. He writes a column, The Adventurer, and also hosts a weekly show where he interviews individuals like former world heavyweight boxing champ Smokin’ Joe Frazier, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, Olympic Silver Medal figure skater Sasha Cohen, motor sports legend Sir Jackie Stewart, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Frank Wilczek.
Why he loves it: What’s not to love? Clash describes his job as “living out all my boyhood fantasies.” And of course, he gets paid to do it all.
His career path: Clash’s interest in travel and far-off places began with his childhood experience as a ham operator in the 1960s, which allowed him to travel virtually by talking to people from around the world. His first job out of college was as a writer for a D.C.-based aviation magazine called Airline Executive. After a range of experiences, which included business school, dabbling in music — his band The VP’s gained quite a reputation for satirizing the business world — and spending a number of years in advertising, Clash landed a job at Forbes as a reporter and fact checker through an interview set up by a friend. He went on to start his own column, The Adventurer, six years later.
His advice: Clash suggests that if you’re pursuing a high-risk idea, keep your day job. And find “a point of business that can be leveraged — a niche that makes you different.” He also recommends taking a proactive approach, maintaining that you can create your dream job if it doesn’t already exist, just like he did at Forbes.