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The other day I had an interesting conversation with a young person seeking career advice. This young man is bright, talented, and highly pedigreed, but not engaged at his job. Bored at work, he was out fishing for a new job in a different field.
My conversation with this person felt uncannily like conversations I have with my five-year-old. My son seems to think that my function in life is to entertain him. In my son’s mind, if he is bored, I have failed.
Somehow the same quality that is amusing in a five-year-old is nauseating in a twenty-five-year-old. Call me old-fashioned, but expecting your employer to keep you engaged is about as pathetic as expecting your boss to play with you in the sandbox.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to drop some platitudes on my young friend to get him out of my hair. Instead, I went full fogey on him. Here’s what I told him.
If you quit this job because you’re bored or frustrated, then you’re just going to quit the next job when you get bored and frustrated. Where does it end? And if you allow yourself to become the person who switches jobs every time you get bored, what’s to stop you from becoming the person who switches wives every time you get bored? Switching jobs is just a change of scenery. You need to change yourself. Learn how to make your own party.
The concept of “making your own party” landed like a ton of bricks on my young friend. What does it mean? How do you do it? Is it even possible? So I gave him the following concrete examples.
Minneapolis Karate Club
A friend of mine is a highly accomplished martial artist who moved to Minneapolis from Arizona to attend law school. Upon arrival, he was dismayed to find that the local karate scene was basically nonexistent. In similar situations, most people would complain about the lack of adequate training facilities and training partners, let their skills degrade, or maybe even move to another city.
But my friend is not most people. Rather than complain, he took the initiative and formed the Minneapolis Karate Club. His club now competes and wins at the highest level of international Karate competition. He made his own party and introduced something new, different, and special to the city.
If you are a hip hop fan you’ve probably heard of Doomtree, and if you haven’t, you will soon. Doomtree is an internationally acclaimed hip hop crew that is based in Minnesota, a state with virtually no entertainment industry apparatus. What do you do if you love hip hop but live in a flyover state? Most people would move to Los Angeles, send in demos, and wring their hands waiting for a major label to see their talent and make them a star.
Instead, Doomtree bootstrapped their own record label and figured out how to scale to international distribution. They made their own party and helped to put Midwest hip hop on the map.
I must know scores of people who want to write books but I only know one who has actually done so. She is my sister, Annabelle, a working mother of four, who somehow managed to find time to write a fantastic historical novel called Tiger Pelt. Annabelle sent out her manuscript to the publishing houses and it was met with stony silence or rejection slips. Most people would have given up at that point.
But Annabelle decided to make her own party. She formed Leaf~Land Press, an independent publishing company and soon Tiger Pelt will hit the street as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015.
The Velvet Rope
Maybe you’ve been out at night and seen people lined up outside of a club. A goon guards the club, and the would-be revelers are kept in formation by a velvet rope line. If you want to get into the party you have to wait your turn, shivering in the cold, until the goon lets you in.
Everything in life is a velvet rope line, and most people spin their wheels waiting for gatekeepers to let them into someone else’s party.
Which brings me back to my young friend and the many others like him who are dissatisfied with, well, everything. The perfect job, or marriage, or whatever isn’t a party at the end of a velvet rope line. The party is inside you. If you dig in, you will find it.
“Velvet rope“photo (CC BY-ND 2.0) by The Lilywhite Collection.