Last week, I published a question (see post here) from a 23-year old reader (whom I called “Gentle Reader” at first, and who has since shared that his name is Jon) who was trying to decide whether to give up his (loathed) financial services job to spend the summer playing professional baseball in Germany.
Although I figured a few people would weigh in with advice, I was unprepared for the response. Over 60 comments came in, which is no small beans for this blog. The advice was about 59.5 for going to Germany, and .5 for being careful about the decision.
Tom Volkar of Delightful Work thought I should not have shared my opinion in the post, because I could have skewed the results. I can see his point, but know my readers well enough to trust that they will not agree with me if they think I am wrong.
There was some great advice like:
If you’re going to do The Big OE (Overseas Experience) you might want to add some planning into the serendipity.
It can be very easy to get lost in the Now of being part of a new team (new to you) and lose the plot overall.
Who’s on your list of ‘love to meet’ who ISN’T involved in baseball.
Who belongs to the world you’re making for yourself after this
Which of your innate core skills will you be consciously honing
through this experience? Basic personality stuff such as encouraging
others, for example. Things that use those parts of you that you feel
are withering in your present job.
Where will you go to grow yourself? What can you do when you’ve escaped the confines of your present local expectations of you?
Practice and playing ball and meshing with the team is only a little
part of the day, surely? You can either be a ‘typical’ – or you can
play the part while you grow yourself for tackling your further-beyond
PS There is absolutely no reason why you need to go home. Hone your
imagination and find ways to stay as a welcome ex-pat somewhere/s in
the EU. It seems to be growing every year.
PPS – before you leave your present job – consciously collect your
valuables. The skills and disciplines and information sets that are
transportable anywhere. They might be useful later.
And from my favorite Ninja Baker Kathlyn:
Go, but realize that your parents are most likely concerned about your
well-being and you should be too. Not only is your job at risk right
now (no matter what you do because all our jobs are at risk), but
you’re not going to have any kind of financial stability unless you
make it happen for it yourself. I don’t either and I’m much older than
you. So go, definitely go. But plan. Make this not just a “heart” thing
but a “head” thing too. Make this part of your plan for your life, not
just a detour. If you want to write, this is the perfect opportunity
for you to write about an amazing life experience AND see if you have
the discipline to write about it every day while you’re doing it. If
you’re going to go into an occupation like writing, you’re going to
need the discipline (and it’s HARD). This is a chance for you to
experience, plan, and make an unpopular decision that you know is right
for you – because as many have already said, your parents probably
aren’t going to back you up on this one no matter what argument you
give them. I have a good friend who decided to go into a very
competitive creative field who’s parents didn’t support her and now,
guess who’s most impressed with her kick-ass work? Dad. Most parents
are like that – they think they’re protecting you. Go, definitely go,
just be smart about it and realize that this will be work, just like
your job now is work – it’s all work and it’s all hard. But some work
is more rewarding than other work and when you find your thing, you
gotta grab it! Good luck!
And one of the few more cautious voices, Art:
I’m going to rain on this parade of joy….
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. (Remind anyone of a current fiscal crisis?)
Mom and dad may just be grumps who don’t want their boy to have any
fun. Or maybe they have a different message that this young man does
not want to hear, and is not telling us.
Perhaps they see a young man that could have done well in college,
IF he’d applied himself. Maybe they see a young man who really didn’t
want to find a job, but did, and now isn’t putting forth much effort,
though he is being paid for it. (He admits to a 20% commitment – that
is about 1 hour of worth per day).
I’d offer him TWO pieces of advice –
1) Before you go, decide: Is it really to play ball, or is it to escape
cubicle hell? It’s only for a summer, so it’s no big loss if you spend
most of it on the bench and are miserable because you don’t speak the
language and everyone treats you like an outsider.
2) Admit the truth: you’ve already decided to go – you are just
shopping for confirmation that its OK to cut and run. So make sure you
realize this is just another Disneyland vacation, not the reality of
making a living. While you are gone, REALLY decide what you are going
to be when you become an adult. How can you support yourself AND give
fair value to an employer AND be happy? How will you assure your
children get the advantage of a college education – as you did?
Because you haven’t found your sweet spot in REALITY yet.
You AREA at the age to go do crazy stuff like this. Yes, it can look good on your resume.
But you are also old enough to start making real FORWARD LOOKING
decisions and plans, not just run away from what makes you unhappy.
Enjoy the vacation, but realize what it is – escape from job mistake
#1 (or #2? or #3? we don’t really know from this one-sided picture, do
See the comments to get the full picture — basically, a whole crew of people cheering for Jon to follow his heart’s desire.
I got quite a few personal emails, one which I forwarded to Jon from a
recruiter in Washington, D.C. She was extremely supportive of his
decision, and even offered to help him get a job when he returned. As
fate would have it, Jon currently lives in D.C. Coincidence?
Jon responded to all the advice this way:
First of all, thanks to everyone for all the support. Like some
people noted, I already knew what choice I should make before I reached
out to Pam. Posting this on “Escape From Cubical Nation” made it a
pretty unfair debate anyway. If I really wanted to see the other side
of this argument I could post the same thing on a forbes.com message
board, but there’s no need for that. I was really just looking to hear
some support backed by reason and experience. When I brought this up to
my friends, all of whom close to my age, most initially thought I was
crazy (which is partly true) but after thinking about it for a second
or two most agreed this was the opportunity of a lifetime. So much so
that of about the 20 or so people I asked, 100% were completely behind
the idea, and the few that made a effort to point out some negatives
did so with a hint of jealousy. The problem I’ve had internally was
when I asked my parents, who have always been my voice of reason, they
weren’t too keen on the idea. They didn’t completely reject it, but
gave more of the “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” routine… which
everyone knows is the hardest to cope with. This was why I was looking
for some advice from people like yourselves, who could share their
actual experiences rather than just my friend’s ramblings (ex. “Dude I
heard, the bars in Germany are sick.”)
I have never been one to seek people’s approval on the choices I
make, but this one seemed different. Within my immediate circle of
friends, I have always been one of the most responsible when it came to
major decisions and life events, and felt I was always one step ahead
of the curve. I got into a good college, concentrated on keeping my
grades up, switched majors to make sure I could get a high paying job,
then landed a good job before I even graduated. Most of my peers are
just now starting to get to where I am at with their careers. In one
light, it felt like I might be throwing it all away by leaving now… but
then again, in another, brighter light, everything everyone has been
saying here holds true, and I realize that this is a once in a lifetime
opportunity that I would be stupid to pass up. My main arguments, most
of which seem to have been covered in people’s posts were that:
– I didn’t take any sort of “find yourself” trip after school, even
though I originally planed to, due to the job I had sign on for.
– I put a lot of time and effort into finding this opportunity, and
after a few years of pondering, I still want to go. (I’ve wanted to do
this since I decided not to play baseball in college in order to go to
a better school)
– I already don’t like this job and need a reason to leave.
– I’ve always loved baseball, and this could be my last chance to play at this high a level.
All of my friends hate the fact that they’re working already, and I
seem to be the only one doing something about it. Once again, I
appreciate all of support and the context everyone has put behind their
posts, it really helped me to solidify my choice.
I registered a blog today http://fratology.wordpress.com/ and will start
updating it asap. The name fratology stems from a website url I
registered to start up a frat guy humor e-magazine – which, now that I
think of it, this is actually the first action I’ve taken on the idea.
Check back often for any updates if you’re interested in my story. As
of now, I’m waiting to hear back from the team to find out the exact
financial package they can offer me, which should come later this week.
I’m glad there has been interest in my case, since I had previously
thought about making a blog to document this trip. I also thought to
possibly getting some sort of media attention to create a story out of
it to jump start a writing or journalism career, but I’ve scoured the
internet for ways to submit article ideas to newspapers or magazines
and had no luck. If anyone knows of ways to do this, my spam buster
email address is firstname.lastname@example.org any help is greatly appreciated.
Anyway, thanks again and be sure to check out the blog.
But my favorite reply came from Jon’s mom Valerie, who must have heard about the discussion from Jon:
“I am overwhelmed by the response and support Jon has received in his quest for adventure.
As a parent, of course, I only want him to be happy. If his life is complete — my life is more complete. I want him to be financially secure, have a good career, and ultimately be successful. That is my job as his life coach. Jon was always a good, conscientious student. He cared about his grades – I didn’t have to care for him.
My parents were immigrants but they achieved more financial stability than my american friends. They worked harder. I am programmed to work hard and earn what you make. I was upset to read that Jon only put in 20% effort at his job. That’s not like him. I don’t want him to carry that to his next job. I ultimately feel responsible because I was the one who talked him into taking this job. But I thought I was doing the right thing. He had the chance to interview for a Hedge fund that would have given him more job stability and financial success. Even with that I couldn’t see him taking the job because l. it was 2 miles from home 2. he would work nights and possibly weekends to start 3. he would still live at home. I didn’t see that as a life for him while he was young- contrary to what my sister thought. I know they think I made a mistake to tell him to take THE ADVENTURE. So I carry the mother’s guilt that my decision didn’t work out……………..
All the posts were positive to go which I do understand but I did appreciate those that brought out the reality of the present financial crises. I told Jon if it was any other time I would be thrilled that he had the opportunity – knowing that finding another job would not be a problem. That is not the case now. Every morning my husband gives me the unemployment count and that doesn’t help. Of course my husband is self employed and has been since he was 21 years old. He’s lived on his own since he was 17 so he is also so proud of Jon’s accomplishments and his success. He wants Jon to have job stability. My husband still does not know that Jon is considering this offer — I told him he has to call his father himself when he makes the choice. I know he will be worried about his future when he returns from Germany.
I am proud that he is not making this decision irrationally. That he has taken the time and effort to get opinions. If he wants to go I will support his decision but I will also have to add that he should complete his present job at 110%. To leave the job and wow them. Give it the same energy he would a job he wants. He has to be realistic about his return. There is no guarantee he will find his dream job right away. He has to understand that he will have to get experience and put in 110% – sometimes even 100 is not enough to stand out and be noticed. Whatever the job is – he should bring forth creative ideas for change — Am I wrong? Can any job became a challenge? That’s another topic.
Sorry for the length of this reply. But I know he will make the right choice. I know he will make it work just by the way he approached his decision.
Just like one person said there might be days in Germany that are not the greatest. Sitting on the bench…losing a game because of an error..culture difference..money..etc. But I always say when you are on vacation you say you are having a good time. When you’re home a week you remember it as a great time. When you talk about it a year later it was the greatest vacation you ever had. I’m sure that will be his experience. It gets better as you get older.
Thank you for taking the time and interest in his quest. He’s a very responsible son and I’m sure he will make the right decision and it will work……I also have sleepness night worrying about him…… “
I do not believe that you just do what you love and the money will follow. There is a lot involved in making the money follow, like having a great business model and robust marketing activities and hard work and patience and luck and supportive friends and mentors.
I am much more convinced of the fact that if you practice doing what you love, you are much more likely to discover what to do that you love, or at least like, which also pays the bills. For years, I have had this gut feeling, which is why I encourage people who feel unsure of what to do in their career to wander around museums or spend time watching movies they like.
When I saw this TED talk by Bill Strickland, the awe-inspiring man who started the gorgeous and inspiring Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, and authored Make the Impossible Possible, it all made sense. His path to greatness and contribution started by picking up a hunk of clay. It was the fire of creativity, ignited in the kiln, that inspired him to find his life’s work. It wasn’t a straight line from “I love making pottery” to “I want to become a potter.” See his complete talk here: (link to website here)
I think the wonderful, smart, dear sweet young men of the Pursue the Passion project have another wildly important lesson for young Jon: don’t just explore something that excites you, share what you have learned from others so they can benefit from your learning. This simple tactic led a group of 4 guys to criss-cross the country interviewing passionate people, and ultimately led to sponsorship by Jobing.com, and eventually fruitful and viable work.
Jon shared that he has started a blog which I will encourage him to keep up if and when he heads to Germany. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
Thank you Valerie, for being brave enough to post very honest comments about your apprehensions about your son’s career choices. As a Mom, I totally and completely understand your desire to play a supportive and active role in your son’s life, as well as guide him toward good decisions. Parenting is never easy, and it never ends. My Mom tells me she still stays up some nights worrying about me and my siblings, and we are now in our 40s and 50s. That is what you call love. 🙂
[…] Update on our career-challenged 23-year old wannabe ballplayer trapped in a dreaded job […]
[…] Then, as Jon’s Mom got involved in the discussion, it got much juicier and interesting, when we learned that not only was she blown away with the quality of support from my blog readers, but she also completely changed her view of the risk involved with Jon’s decision. She inspired this follow up post. […]
[…] The 23 year old ballplayer trapped in a cube and the follow up post with input from his mom […]
I love that Jon’s mom calls herself his life coach! What a great way to look at parenting. I think her saying that Jon needs to give 110% at his job now until he leaves is invaluable advice. She is right – if he wows them now, they will be an ally for him later, no matter what he ends up doing. We let ourselves get in situations (I am speaking from experience here) where we hate our jobs so much that we not only burn bridges unnecessarily, we annihilate them. What a disservice we do ourselves. Make that break a good, strong part of your work story, and you’ll always be doing yourself a favor.
I think Jon is lucky to be related to such a great life coach!
First off, thanks for the detailed follow up. That’s super cool.
OK, I freely admit I haven’t done a lot of thinking on this because the members of this household have said that by eight o’clock I should stop schmoozing on blogs and, you know, spend time with my family. But here’s my totally unsolicited opinion.
The dude is asking for advice on a blog called Escape From Cubicle Nation. His responses are going to be a tad on the skewed side, n’est pas? Certainly not all of your readers are drum beating stick-it-to-the-Man types, but we’re not exactly an unbiased bunch. And the fact that he asked you — and sort of us — instead of Corporate Right Wing Blogs of America says that we already know where he’s leaning.
I only read some of the comments last time so this may have been said before, but holy cow! He’s 23! He’s got his whole life ahead of him. I don’t think a few months or years abroad is going to hurt his chances for a job when he gets back home.
And if this DOES hurt his chances with this employer or that employer, they don’t sound like the kind of companies Jon’s going to be happy in — and therefore successful in — anyway.
“I am much more convinced of the fact that if you practice doing what you love, you are much more likely to discover what to do that you love, or at least like, which also pays the bills.”
This is very well put. Thanks Pam.
I really get this and I’ve found it to be true. Who you are (how you are being) and what you are feeling while doing what you love, is an excellent compass for finding what you love that does pay.
OMG thanks for the follow up. this whole thing has been just so awesome
I don’t think Jon will have a problem finding something to do after the baseball adventure.
He is obviously smart enough to have been able to tap into the readers here for launching his blog… and future career… lol 🙂
Apologies if this point has already been made, but instead of looking at this decision as either/or and seeing the time in Germany has purely vacation-like, isn’t it possible that Jon’s experience in Europe may *help* him land a job in US when he gets back?
Aren’t there some employers who might find it valuable to hire someone who’s spent time in a foreign country like what Jon may do?
And aren’t some of the those companies likely the ones that someone like Jon might want to work for?
I think this has the potential to be a great experience. And even if it turns out not to be, Jon will have a new feather to add to his cap and be able to take with him the lessons he’s learned.
Go for it, Jon!
Even in this economy he should go. First, it’s likely things will be better in a year when he comes back. Second, he’s 23 – his costs of living are low so he wouldn’t need to land a great job right away when he’s back in order to just live. And third… life has no Undo option. You can’t pass on this, live life for a decade and then say ‘oh hold it, let’s go back to when I was 23…”
Finally… if you hate something it’s always a waste of time and talent to do it. How ‘good’ the job is doesn’t matter.