Occasionally I get calls from friends asking me to give advice to someone about his or her future. Often the person they want me to speak with is their son or daughter. I enjoy these conversations because I have the opportunity to make a contribution to a young person's career. What always amazes me about people young and not so young is their lack of insight into their own strengths, weaknesses and real passions in life.
I know there are many choices out there, and it's easy to become confused about which career path to follow. Not everybody has the gift of self-awareness. I have seen how much people need someone to help them in making their choices, and it's something I like to do.
Recently I received a visit from the son of a friend who had retired from a high-powered executive position with a Fortune 500 company. The young man was in his 30s and was bright and articulate, and I asked him what he expected I could offer him. "I don't really know. My dad thinks highly of you and I'm just trying to make a decision as to what I want to do in the future," was all he could muster.
I asked him to review what he had done with his life the last few years. He told me how successful he had been in medical equipment sales and then rattled off some of the details of the big deals he had done. His list was impressive, and there was no reason for me to doubt any of the things he had accomplished. It was fun to be with him because I enjoy swapping stories with salespeople who are excited about their work. Then this young man told me that he and his wife had lived in Europe for the past couple of years after her company transferred her there. He had given up his sales job to go with her, and while overseas he earned an MBA.
At first all I thought was that this young man had a lot of determination and had done the right thing by broadening his education. So I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and he admitted he didn't know. After we had talked for a while I wound up telling him he should remain in medical equipment sales.
That may seem like a strange thing to say to someone with a new graduate degree looking to make a change, but I had my reasons: My young friend is an active sort who would have difficulty sitting in an office for any length of time. He had been successful in sales, and he had told me it was something he loved doing. So I told him to stop being so anxious and find a company he wanted to work for. With his history and contacts, he would have no trouble finding a good job.
Just last week I attended my company's annual Christmas party. I am not a great partygoer but this time I stayed longer than usual because it was such a convivial group. The quintet that provided the music was a treat, playing some of my old favorites from the '50s and '60s. At one point a young lady who works for our company grabbed the microphone and started to sing. Her voice was terrific and after a couple of songs she sat down. The next day I ran into her in our office lobby, and I asked her if she had picked up her beautiful voice while singing in the church choir or had taken voice lessons, and her answer was no. After she told me how much she loved singing but didn't have the time to pursue it, I urged her to get more training because she had a gift. I told her to take the time to develop her talent because it was something that she could do for the rest of her life. It will be interesting to see what she does-maybe a little encouragement was what she needed.
Then there's the fellow I talked to recently who had just lost his job and was re-evaluating his career goals. Although he is a brilliant writer, my friend told me something fascinating. He told me he had always dreamed of being a teacher and coach but "at my age (early 50s) I don't think anybody would want me."
I asked him if he was serious about it, and he said he was. So I told him to stop worrying about his age and start looking around for a coaching or teaching job and make his dreams come true.
My point is that some of us refuse to look at ourselves objectively and exploit the gifts we have. In the case of the salesman, he needed reassurance about his own inclinations. He left my office feeling a lot better about staying in the selling profession. The young woman with the great voice simply needed to hear someone else confirm that she has real talent and she has a right to pursue it further. It took losing his job for my friend who has wanted to be a teacher and coach all his life to think about pursuing his dream.
Too many people are less than satisfied with their lives because they haven't taken the time to reflect on what it is they really love to do. Sometimes all it takes is having someone who is willing to listen and gently tell them that what they probably already know to be true.
360 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com