Forget about your dream job – it’s all about the ride

AstronautThere are many ways to find your dream job, so don’t worry about whether you’re on the most efficient path to get there. Just work hard at what you do, says Baron Anyangwe.

Having grown up in several African countries, my answer to the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ changed depending on what influenced me at the time – mainly films from the West that I loved.

My father was a political activist and I learned about the human rights movement in the US through the stories of Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King, and initially I wanted to become a human rights activist. But I also worried that I would die young.

When the film Apollo 13 came out, just as I hit my teenage years, I decided I wanted to become an astronaut. But then I realised that the only people NASA flew to the moon were all over 40-years-old and I was too impatient to study for that long before heading into space.

Just as I was about to do my GCSEs, I watched The Rock, in which Nicolas Cage saves a city from a chemical weapon attack, and I was finally convinced that I would become a chemical engineer. I focused on maths and sciences for my A-levels but, yet again, somewhere between then and university, I changed my mind, and after university I changed my mind again.

Changing your mind a number of times is, it turns out, not unique to me. A simple search revealed some interesting people who have also changed their minds along the way:

  • Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli studied law at university before committing to singing at the age of 34.
  • J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary after university and went from living on state benefits to multi-millionaire status in five years at the age of 32.
  • James Cameron, Canadian film director, dropped out of his physics course at college, became a truck driver and then quit his job to enter the movie industry at the age of 24. 

Most of the successful people I come across and read about fell into their dream job almost accidentally, and many of them didn’t take the most efficient path. However, the thing they all have in common is that they have persistently strived for the best in every job they have done, and they have allowed themselves to go with the flow and learn from their experiences.

After a first degree and a masters in mechanical engineering and technology management, my dream job was either at Airbus or a Formula 1 team. But instead I joined the tax department in an accounting firm and focused on branching into corporate finance.

When the recession hit, the stock markets seemed like an exciting area to be working in, so I jumped at an opportunity to work as an investment trader. I remembered films of traders on Wall Street with people in striped suits and braces shouting all over the place and I thought that was for me.

In reality, the braces and cigars are not so common, but the shouting and swearing was standard. After one and a half years of watching prices rise and fall, seeing clients win and lose, and nearly having a heart attack every day, the world of investments didn’t appeal to me any more and my dream job changed again. I now work as a commercial finance manager in the telecoms industry.

Steve Jobs once said that, as he approached work each day, he would ask himself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer is “no” for too many days in a row, it’s time to change something.

So many people worry about whether the path they are on is the best path to get to their dream job. They worry about how to get on the ladder and stick it out until they get their dream job. It’s common to think: ‘I just have to do my time in this role and eventually I’ll get promoted to the role I really want.’

I have found that what makes a good dream is not just the end result, but the whole journey. Similarly in careers, there are countless ways to get to the same result. The question should not be whether you’re on the best or right path, but whether there’s anything you can learn from your current circumstance which will help you become the person you want to be.

So if you’re not yet ‘what you want to be when you grow up’, don’t fret – enjoy the ride and you’ll most likely end up in a better place than you imagined. I hope.

Baron Anyangwe is a commercial finance manager at telecoms company EE. He tweets @simplybaron.

Thanks to The Guardian for allowing to republish this article. You can view the original version on the Guardian website.