Before declaring my major in college I remember losing what felt like weeks of sleep trying to decide if the path to become a music educator was right for me. Choosing the wrong path or worse, choosing the right path and ultimately not finding success in said path was all consuming. What I didn’t know then was that the pursuit of a music degree was preparing me incredibly well for work in the 21st century. Like you, I was passionate, intellectually curious, and incredibly interested in becoming an expert in my discipline; all characteristics for a successful career. Fear be damned.
My career fear has led to a deep exploration of careers in the arts, an exploration that continues to this day. Most recently, I’ve been podcasting a course out of Stanford called “How to Start a Startup.” Paul Graham, Co-Founder of Y Combinator, argues that genuine intellectual curiosity in pursuit of domain expertise in the traditional sense will enable you to thrive in the 21st century economy. For example, if your intellectual curiosity involves becoming a scholar on the compositions for Dulcian by Giovanni Antoli Bertoli, great. Your job is to know Bertoli deeply first, then be able to contextualize his work in a way that can propel you into a sustainable career. Paul points out that:
“The optimal thing to do in college if you want to be a successful startup founder [read: successful artist] is not some sort of new vocational version of college, focused on entrepreneurship. It’s the classic version of college, [which] is education [for] its own sake. If you want to start your own startup [read: arts centric arts career], what you should do in college is learn powerful things.”
In spite of this very open approach to learning, my hunch is that many of you don’t feel that you’re learning the “powerful things” necessary for a sustainable career in the arts. It’s time to take control. Paul’s words only work if your pursuit of knowledge is the type of knowledge that empower you to build a career. Below are three fears to tackle in the next five years. Consider it a self-directed pursuit of powerful things.
Fear #1: I won’t have a financially stable career.
- Start a budget, now! I’ve been using You Need A Budget, and I love it. Getting your personal finances in order is the single most important thing you can do to be financially stable five years from now.
- Understand your student loans. The less debt you have out of college, the more flexibility you have to do the things you love. If debt is unavoidable, know exactly what you need to do to get out as fast as possible when you graduate.
- Understand the job market for your chosen career path. Start reading trade magazines, interview people in the field you wish to pursue, and know about the community in which you’d like to live.
Fear #2: I won’t have a job in my field of interest.
- Become an expert in something. Your current degree path is attempting to help you achieve domain expertise. However, the prescribed course of study often only gives you a broad understanding of the discipline. 21st century experts know their field deeply, but it’s less about the facts and more about the context of that expertise combined with your ability to convey your ideas. If you want to be a true expert in five years, start reading, asking questions, and writing extensively about the discipline you’re passionate about.
- Start something new, now! The best way to ensure that you will always be able to do something you love is to create a career path based on what you love. The arts entrepreneurship movement is based on the idea of becoming your own you centric, artistic startup. A prescribed entrepreneurship curriculum is not as powerful as you putting yourself out there and launching something on your own. Pick the thing you’re most passionate about, see what innovative things people in the field are doing, and launch something you could see yourself doing five years from now. If it totally bombs, don’t worry! Every time you put yourself out there, it’s a learning experience.
Fear #3: I might not achieve my goals.
- Explore a small step off your path. Think about your “dream job.” What aspects of that job that are attractive? Over the next five years, isolate those aspects and see if there are other career paths that enable you to pursue your passions. Try to have 2-3 potential career paths when you gradate, even if they’re a small step away from what you’re thinking about doing now.
- Have Grit. There are many studies being conducted on the notion of grit. Angela Lee Duckworth has been studying grit for years and has concluded that people with grit often have the “perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals.” Do you have grit? Here’s a great article to get you thinking.
I think we all need to stop and take a deep breath when it comes to career fear. Most of you already have the skill set to be incredibly successful. My advice to you is to pursue the things you’re passionate about and become an expert. College happens to be a great place for that exploration because there’s such a diversity of thought. The trick here—and why I believe entrepreneurship has been embraced so deeply across the country—is to attach your deep learning with the skills to develop a sustainable career in your chosen field.
What things have you done to tackle your career fears? Share your thoughts below, it would be great to hear from you! Thanks for reading.