Mike Rowe said “You should never follow your dreams”.
I heard him say that and talk about it in a TED talk, a couple years back. I had just recently cashed in my pay cheque, bought a new tablet and one of the first things I did was download a podcast app. I enjoyed listening to talk radio, because I liked how much of the world you can discover in just ten to fifteen minute audios.
And the TED Talk Radio Hour was one of the programs I followed each week. I got exposed to a lot of ideas, some didn’t agree with my ideals, a lot did teach me a good deal about the world outside the confines of my society (I have never really been out of the country).
So when I talk about things I don’t agree with, it was that statement made by Mike Rowe, popular for his Dirty Jobs show on Discovery Channel, that you should never follow your dreams. And I exclaimed in my head: “What? Why?” If there’s anything common among every success story in history will tell you, it’s that the road to happiness and success is to follow your dreams, do what you love, work in your passion.
We have all heard those statements before, but as the years went by, I found myself thinking that everything the so-called success stories keep pitching may just be a load of nonsense.
I never really had a “dream”, it kept changing with each new experience as I grew up. As a kid I wanted to be a doctor, later I wanted to be an scientist in the academe, recently I just want to simple life working at home. But I did know my passion: Computers.
At high school I got engaged in programming, I became so good at it that after the course, I began learning about it on my own. A few years later, people began calling me a ‘computer genius’. I was to go to guy when it comes to tech, I was fixing computers, programming macros for the faculty, designing spreadsheets, making simple applications, as long as it was about computers my classmates and my teachers knew who to go to: me.
And from this you may assume, if computers were my passion, I should be in a computer college. But I wasn’t. I took a major in nursing and allied health care in the university for four years and everything I mentioned above happened while I was there. I was trying to make steps toward medical school and this was my foundation. And I wasn’t really a good student back then, despite being popular for my skills, I was just an average student and I graduated with nothing to be proud off other than the fact that I passed my boards and was a certified nurse.
I wasn’t happy when I finished school, because my head wasn’t really set to health care. If there was anything that I realized from college, it was that my talents weren’t for health care and medicine. It was in logic, and mathematics, and technology. This is what I love, I kept saying to myself, and eventually I got a job as an instructor of Nursing Informatics in the same university.
“THIS IS IT” I said to myself. Best of both worlds, I get to use what I learned in college and practice what I love doing. And it was the best job in the world, I was payed a lot and worked less than 6 hours a day. Best of all, everything I loved to do since high school is here in this career.
It would have had a happy ending, but four years in I was more miserable than ever. Bureaucracy was keeping me from doing my job the way I thought it was best, and the environment didn’t really make me enjoy going to work. I hated the inside politics of kissing ass, and my career that had so much potential stagnated.
I got caught in the main stream and lost who I was.
Robert Frost’s most famous poem “The Road not Taken” tells the story of a man who had a choice between two paths and that by taking the road less traveled made all the difference in the journey. You can interpret that anyway you like, but the gist remains the same: avoid the sheep’s mentality.
Although I tried to forge a path that was unique to my passion and dreams, I never really built up on what I wanted in the first place.
I had a unique ground to launch from, being the first and only teacher of Nursing Informatics in the city meant I was pioneering the course. I was invited by different schools to work on their own syllabi and how to integrate it into their curriculum. I was making waves. But as promotion season came in at the end of the year, I needed to keep my job.
I had to attend the same seminars, fulfill the same requirements as everybody else. Although the topics weren’t relevant to my subject, I had to attend because the hours meant more to put into my evaluation. At the end of the year, I got the highest ranking among the faculty and I thought this was a sign of my success. I was on top. But it turn’s out I wasn’t.
As I got swept in the culture of compliance over competence, I never grew from my foundations. Each year I taught the same things, never keeping up with the changes to health care information systems. At the end of four years, everything I knew was obsolete. And when I decided to leave the university for another career, I wasn’t as demanded as I thought. I constantly received emails for job interviews that never really went anywhere, and for a solid year I was unemployed.
But I followed my dream, I kept telling myself. I began blaming the environment, that it was because something was keeping me down. They were jealous of my talents, that’s why they are taking extra effort from keeping me from succeeding. I was the golden boy for four years, I shouldn’t be begging for jobs, the companies should be begging for me!
I was a professional victim, but in that year of missed opportunities I began re reading a lot of books that motivated me when I was younger. And I realized my greatest mistake.
I followed the road most traveled.
It was in the movie Batman Begins, where we get the quote: “It’s not who I am inside, but what I do that defines me”. And this is a statement I should really take to heart.
When I got my supposed dream job, I believed I was already living my dream. I’m doing what I love, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I woke up anticipating the next work day and ended each day fulfilled. I read up on the latest information about Nursing Information Systems, and modified my syllabus each semester.
But then the people around me got to me. They didn’t innovate, instead they use old exams, old materials, and old methods to teach their topics. I tried resisting this culture, but with each new grading period with me spending more time on the paper work as compared to them, the grind just led me to recycle materials. What’s the point of learning new things when the old stuff works just fine.
And this ate at me, compliance has it’s way of sucking out the love of what you do because things become routine. Life becomes mechanical instead of organic. Everything is familiar because you have gone through it before, eventually the thing you love to do becomes mundane, and the mundane is never interesting, it fades into the background.
I transformed what I love into something grey that I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to it. I diverted my efforts into other things and just left my passion to collect dust because I just went with the flow and did what everybody did.
To meet the lowest standard possible and get along with my day. But I never really changed who I was inside, I loved computers, I love math and I believed that computers had the capacity to solve any problem out there. During my first year teaching I was creating a program to optimize nursing information to streamline it across various departments. The city’s first Health Information System. But I never followed through, I had too much paper work, too much of life to deal with.
And because I never really grew from what I could be, I faded into the background. I didn’t have anything that made me stand out anymore, because I was just like everybody else. At the end of four years teaching, I had the same resume as the average 26 year old applicant from the same career path.
All because I followed the road most traveled.
I was still the same person who I was inside, but what I did: comply, defined me: as a nobody.
So let’s get back to Mike Rowe. He said to never follow your dreams, and now after all I have been through, I’m starting to believe he was right.
Doing what you love isn’t enough to be successful in life, you have to grow. Be more than who you are yesterday. I was fortunate enough to actually have the opportunity to do what I love early in life, but had the misfortune of settling. Of letting personal growth take second place, of never taking the next big step.
I have had a lot of regrets since. But I believe it isn’t too late, because now that I stopped playing the victim, that I am already taking steps to build on what I love doing. Moving forward is going to be easy.
The message is simple: don’t do what you love, build on it and do more.
Published by Aga Aquino