Cool Career Basics
Cool Career Basics
Marty Nemko, Ph.D. (Contributing Editor, Careers, U.S. News & World Report) gives expert video advice on: How do I determine if my cool career is actually the right choice?; What do I do if my cool career seems impossible? and more...
What is a "cool career"?
A cool career is one that generally is perceived as having glamour, money, fame and intrinsic fun. The problem with cool careers is that very often, the more cool it is, the harder it is to get, and actually the worse the employer treats you. For example, in a film industry. Well because there are 10,000 people who would give their teeth to be actors - or even production assistants - the employers and the big shots treat you like crap. They pay you nothing; they treat you like dirt. The career that sounds cool in theory is often not as cool in practice.
How many people in America actually work in their cool career?
It depends on if you have a truly cool career. Here's the little dirty dark secret: if you pulled all the people who have extensively cool careers, like, let's say, actors or musicians or whatever, and you really ask them in their heart of hearts how many of them, after they've been at it a while, feel it's really cool, a lot of them don't. This is because number one: a lot of them are wannabes. They're still waiting tables, twenty years later, waiting for their big break. Even those who are start; you know how many stars are drug addicts, or have depression problems. It's rampant. Some of the happiest people I know are people who have fairly ordinary jobs. They're middle managers. They're plumbers. They're teachers. I even had a sewer replacement guy who's very happy with his life, because everybody is glad to have a sewer guy who's nice, intelligent, and does a responsible job. He gets paid six figures because nobody wants to do that work. He gets paid six figures. Everybody says, "Oh, thank you, sir! Oh, I'm so glad you showed up on time! Thank you so much!" whereas in the film world or the acting world or whatever, you're not going to get any of that. Also, he doesn't have overtime. When 5:00 comes on Friday, he's done, and he can pursue as an avocation his hobby as a writer, as an actor; all those cool things. So, the coolest career is often a not-cool career.
How does my motivation affect my cool career search?
It's the biggest and hardest problem of all. I'm going to be really straight with you. I have a pretty darn, good reputation as a career counselor and yet – the one problem that I have had very little success in is taking unmotivated people and making them motivated. And, I'll tell you why. The standard career counselor advice is, “Oh, if you can only find the right career, you're going to be motivated.” I find that not to be true. I find that people either are – or are not – motivated. If I took Bill Gates, and I said, “You've got to be a shoe-shine boy for the rest of your life” – I'll bet he would do it with gusto. He'd probably open a chain of shoeshine places. But there are just some people' and it is largely genetic, who came out of their mother's wombs laconic. They were unmotivated in school; they're unmotivated in their marriage, their husbands or wives drive them crazy because they're – “Why don't you do this?" "Why can't you take out the garbage?" "Why don't you do this?” I really believe that unmotivated people have a tough time – a hard time. You know, the thing that shocked me the most when I became a career counselor is how unmotivated some people are. The people who tend to come to career counselors are people who are kind of slug-like. Not all, but a lot. So I really made a very serious study of overcoming procrastination. I read everything there was to read about that. I talked to every expert. I've tried everything under the sun and I don't believe that I've been particularly effective in helping unmotivated people. In fact, I spoke to a guy who is considered the world's expert – the expert – on overcoming procrastination and he said, “Confidentially, privately,” – in the confidence of the conversation, he said, “Truthfully, I have not been successful in helping people overcome procrastination. That's the truth.”
What are the steps to finding my cool career?
Just ask yourself, are you mainly a word person, a people person, a data person, or a concrete objects person? Once you have identified that, I really believe that it is a wise thing to do to look at the little career profiles in my book “Cool Careers for Dummies”. They're divided by word careers and people careers and data careers. Read them, they're very interesting and fun little profiles, and in an hour or less, you can come up with a hundred different options within word careers. And there's no better way to identify at least a couple of candidate careers from that, and then at the bottom of each career profile, I list a website and a book for learning more about the career. And after you've done that, read about the career, then go and visit somebody on the job, and then ask them some questions, like “What is the best and worst things about this career? Why might somebody leave this career? What are the things that it really takes to be great in this career? What is the smartest way to get trained?” Once you do that, you're going to get a much better picture of what that career is really like, and if it still feels right, you might watch him or her in action for a couple of hours, do a job shadow. Then, if you've done that for a few careers that you've picked out of what I call the “Cool Careers Yellow Pages” in my book “Cool Careers for Dummies”, that's going to be a great way to pick a career.
How long will it take to find my cool career?
If you did what I just said, you could do it in a month. You could identify those few cool careers out of the Cool Careers Yellow Pages and the book Cool Careers for Dummies in just an hour. You can then go right online and read about it. I very carefully call it. For every one of these careers, I found the very best website with information on that career. You could read about that in minutes. You could order the book on Amazon in minutes and have it at your door in two or three days. Let's say you pick three or four candidate careers; you could read about them in a week. You could then identity people usually through the professional association, or your Yellow Page people, in the field, or people you know, your family knows, your friends know, and talk to a few people and visit them. In a month you would have explored a lot of careers and picked one that's right for you. People aren't that focused. That's the magic word by the way in anything in accomplishing anything in life is, Focus. So many of my clients say, no, I'll do it, I'll visit one website, and then stop and go on with the rest of their lives. If you'd make one month of focused effort, you will choose your career more wisely than 95 percent of the people and choosing your career wisely may be the single most important decision you ever make in you live, maybe with the exception of a spouse.
What do I do if I don't have the skills for the job of my dreams?
It's a great question. The reflex reaction for most people is, "Oh, I think I'd better go back to school and get a master's degree." I wanna tell you a story. I was originally a medical researcher, but I got sick of doing that. I was working at the Rockefeller University, and I decided to do something 180 degrees different. So I became a drug counselor in an inner city New York school, and I ran rap groups with really tough kids. I couldn't control them. They were running around the room, and they said, "You ain't my momma. You can't make me," and all that kind of stuff. It was really pretty tough. So I felt terrible. You know, I felt it was my fault. Somehow, if I only had more training. So what did I do? I did the reflex thing. I went back and got a PHD in education. I never learned a thing about how to control kids in a classroom. University education is all about theory. The real master practitioners never come near a university. So you said your question is, if you're on a job and you don't know if you can do the job well, the answer should usually be not be to go back to school. It's to be to find the best practioner you can find in your current workplace, or a competitor's workplace, and ask for advice, and advice... little snippets of advice. Very often people are happy to offer it for you, and little by little, sometimes they'll turn into mentorships.
What do I do if my cool career seems impossible?
What's crucial is to take a realistic assessment of yourself. Let's say you wanted to be a ballet dancer. You know, about two thirds of the kids who are in ballet lessons, the teacher's very encouraging. You never ever make a career decision based on what your teachers tell you. You make a decision not based on who you're paying, which is the teacher, but you make a decision based on who would pay you. So if you think you want to be a ballet dancer or an actor or any of those cool careers, put yourself out there to twenty or thirty people with the potential to pay you directly: the producers, people who could hire you. And if all of them are ignoring you, and they're not willing to pay you, that's a damn good sign that that's really a career you should not be pursuing. What you might want to do is say, 'well, I'm not ready yet.' That's fine. Give yourself a fixed amount of time. Let's say you've finished, you've majored in ballet at college and now you've finished and you say, 'I really want to give it a shot.' Fine. Circle a date on your calendar one year from now and say, 'if I am not getting paid at least some little bit of money that's going to give me some sign that I am going to succeed at this, I am going to make my dancing a hobby.' I am not saying giving up, that you should give up these cool careers. Make them avocations. We live in a capitalist society, there are ten zillion people who want to be professional dancers, and there are about eight paying jobs. So after a reasonable amount of time, if you can't get paid to do it, there are still great opportunities to do it as an avocation. I love acting but I'm not going to get paid to be an actor. So I do it as a volunteer and I do it in community theater plays and I have a great time. I love directing, I direct plays. If I wanted to be Steven Spielberg my chances are one in a million. But I direct community theater plays and I'm directing the play same time next year, I have all of the benefits of being a director wihtout any of the pain.
What do I do if no cool career seems interesting?
Actually, finding no cool career interesting is very common. Only about five percent of people have one career that they're absolutely orgasmic about. Somebody who wants to be a pianist or a computer game designer or a comedy guy at the Improv. For most people, they're kind of interested in a lot of things but no one thing stands out. That's okay. If I filled this room with a hundred people who were ecstatic about their career, most of them would not know up front that they were ecstatic, that they'd be ecstatic about their career. They have to get into it for a while. And what makes them ecstatic about the career is that they decided to become a master at it. They got a boss that treated them well. They got paid reasonably. The commute was reasonable. They had reasonable time off. I'll tell you a story. There was this guy, graduated from Michigan State and, like so many millions of people, had no idea what the heck he wanted to do with his life. Well, so he was living on his parents sofa and not knowing what the hell to do, and one day his friend said, "Hey man, I got this job at Navistar. They make these harvesters and things like that. And, see, I think there's a job on the floor". So the guy says, "Well, I need to make some money, you know, I want to take my girlfriend out, I have no money, alright I'll go in." So he goes down and he gets a job on the factory floor of Navistar making tractors. Making one little part of tractors; the dashboard, the foam dashboards. What could be more boring. Nobody in the world has ever thought of this as a cool career. And yet because he was a Michigan State graduate, he was a smart guy, more so than the typical person who was on the factory floor, so he learned very quickly. And he was a curious enough guy, he started to ask questions of the real experts who knew about the foam extrusions and which adhesives work on the plastic that goes over the foam and all this other stuff, and little by little, he became the go-to guy about dashboards in tractors. And he got promoted. And he got to help design, help improve the process by which they were going to do dashboards, and you know what? Before very long he became passionate about dashboards.