Isn’t it a tragedy that so many of us never figure out what we love to do? We end up taking a job primarily to make our family financially secure rather than pursuing our passions. Or we don’t strike out on our own because we fear failure or financial ruin.

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve been lucky enough to find my passion and live it in my career. I say lucky because I never had a real plan and it took until I was about 32 before I even had a clue. The reason why I’m sharing my career journey is that I want you to save you time and pain, to get you there quicker. It’s because I want to give you hope.

Not only is it possible to find your dream career, you can do what you love to do no matter what your job ends up being. In fact, I’ll bet you’ve been preparing all your life to be living your passion – and maybe you didn’t even know it!

As a kid growing up in the 1970’s, one of my favorite TV shows was ‘The Waltons’. While the other kids at school wanted to be firemen or astronauts, I wanted to be a woodworker like the father John Walton or a writer like his son John Boy.

My father was retired from the Navy since I was baby. He had been a radar technician during the Korean War. Although he had been good at math and science in high school, he found that studying physics at the University of North Carolina was not to his liking and he dropped out to join the Navy at age 19. The military gave him an opportunity to apply his talents to electronics, but he never rose far in the officer ranks.

When I was a kid he told me that, if he had to do it all over again, he would have been a lawyer or a politician. We lived in the Washington DC suburbs, so I guess that would’ve been a good plan for me if I wanted to stay in the area. At the time, though, I couldn’t think of anything more distasteful than being a lawyer or a politician.

In elementary school, I enjoyed writing a lot. I remember in 3 grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Bankett that had a creative writing class. She gave us cool assignments like where we had to write stories that started with “If I was a _______”. Each day she would fill in the blank for us and have us write the story for an hour or so. We had to draw the illustrations by hand too. I learned that I enjoyed writing and that I (probably) had no business being an artist. 🙂

Outside of class, I also wrote poetry and short stories. I dreamed of writing a novel. My mother, who had been a frustrated artist herself, read to me and encouraged me to write for the fun of it. I remember her pushing me to enter my poetry in contests. Since I was shy and not self-confident, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

I also carved wooden models, like a World War II P-51 fighter plane made out of balsa wood, and built models of cars like the ’72 Corvette. Even my dad acknowledged that those were “pretty good”.

When I got to 7 grade, I took “wood shop” and loved it. I thought I might like to learn a trade. My guidance counselor gave me an old school job placement survey that was supposed to tell me what I “should do” for my career based on my interests. Surprise – the survey results told me that I should be either a journalist (because I liked to write) or a carpenter (because I liked woodworking and being outdoors). It made perfect sense to me.

When I told my father about the results, however, the conversation went something like this:

  • Dad: You know that journalism means long hours and brutal deadlines. Plus, writers don’t make much money.
  • Me: Well, John Boy was poor and had to work hard, but at least he was doing what he loved.
  • Dad: Just because you think you love something doesn’t mean you’ll be successful doing it as a career.
  • Me: (typical teenager) How do you know?
  • Dad: Because I’ve lived it.
  • Me: Well played, sir.
  • Dad: Not to change the subject, but you do have half a brain. Why would you want to be a carpenter?
  • Me: Thanks for the “backhanded compliment”, Dad. Glad I’ve got you in my corner. (Did I tell you I was a sarcastic little snot?). Not all carpenters are like the guys who built our house.
  • Dad: My point is that if you’re relatively smart, and I do mean “relatively”, why would you want to do something that doesn’t exercise your brain?
  • Me: John Walton is one of the smartest guys on TV. (How’s that for an argument?) He’s “street smart”, not “book smart”. Plus he’s always outdoors doing good, honest work.
  • Dad: Yes, but he’s struggling every day to feed his family. He wouldn’t have to do that if he was lawyer.
  • Me: That’s a good point. But at least he doesn’t have to be a lawyer. He has an honorable job. (smile)
  • Dad: Lawyers don’t just make lots of money, you know. They can make a difference.
  • Me: They’re not all like Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. (then and still my favorite book)
  • Dad: That’s a good point. Well, what about a politician?

I didn’t even touch that one. You make the call on who won that argument. 🙂 Anyway, the upshot was that I got all confused about what I should do for a career.

Even after I graduated high school and entered the College of William & Mary, I felt as though I was adrift. I had no idea that I had already begun building the skills and the courage I needed to pursue my dream. Here are some of the twists and turns in my career journey, and what I learned at each bend.

  • 1983 – Take a freshman writing course even though I could’ve opted out because of taking A.P. English in High School. Love it. Take a number of English literature courses. Learn that I still enjoy writing and that I’m not too bad.
  • 1984 – Take a Fortran programming course. Learn the basics of coding that will serve me later as a programmer analyst. More importantly, after all night sessions solving infinite “Do Loops”, discover that to my amazement I actually enjoy programming.
  • 1985 – Take Econometrics and do a project predicting whether a baseball team in Washington would be a good idea or not (well before the Nats). Learn SAS programming and the basics of IBM JCL working on a mainframe. (anyone remember mainframes?)
  • 1987 – Take a retail manager job with DC clothing chain Britches Great Outdoors because apparently the only skill I have coming out of college is selling clothes! Although I hate the job, I learn the basics of selling and managing people. Also learn to fold clothes like a demon, which has served me well in my marriage. Right, sweetheart?
  • 1988 – Quit Britches after one year because I’m going crazy in a mind-numbing job and want to “do something more in line with my major”. My dad, ever my biggest fan, congratulates me again on having half a brain. Thanks, Dad. 🙂 Learn that retail management is not for me.
  • 1988 – Teach myself how to use WordPerfect (pre Microsoft Word) and Lotus 1-2-3 (pre Excel) so that I will have some discernable skills to offer even though my only job experience is “clothing store manager”. Learn that I can pick up marketable skills on my own, not just through school.
  • 1989 – Submit copies of my college econometrics paper along with my resume. Miraculously land a job with an economic analysis firm called N/E/R/A. Every person I interview with says they liked my SAS-based “baseball study”. Learn that I did pick up something useful in college!
  • 1989 – 1992 Learn to write 4GL programs using SAS, JCL, COBOL and PC SAS. Get pretty handy with word processing and spreadsheets. When he wants me to learn a new skill, my boss just hands me a book. This reinforces my belief that reading is still fundamental to getting ahead in your job and in life.
  • 1992 – 1995 – Work with a government contractor called Washington Consulting Group. Learn to manage IT projects and write proposals. Decide that I can’t stand government contracting. No offense to government contractors – it just isn’t for me. Learn that I’m more of a “people person” and I don’t want to be a programmer all my life.
  • 1995 – Graduate from George Mason University with an MBA. Get a lucky call from a recruiter about a Dutch company called Baan to be a consultant implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Learn that I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
  • 1996 – Somehow manage to land my dream job with Baan as a Finance consultant even though I know basically nothing about ERP software or the manufacturing industry. Essentially, my only qualification for the job (I think) is that I can spell B-A-A-N. Learn that I am a Hardcore Baan Fan.
  • 1999 – Leave Baan as the company gets acquired and become an independent consultant in L.A. Live at the beach. Learn the basics of running my own company and how to survive in the consulting business.
  • 2003 – Get over my fear of a startup enough to found i-app Services, LLC and become CEO. Learn how to construct a solid business plan, write proposals, use Quickbooks (I was CFO too), converse with C-Level execs and win new business. More importantly, learn that I can still dazzle my wife and kids!

Fast forward to today. I’ve been doing consulting on Baan ERP software and the current version of what used to be Baan – now called Infor LN – for over 17 years. I’m an entrepreneur and the CEO of an ERP software consulting company which is now called Performa Apps.

Back when I was a kid in the ’70’s I had – like many people I suspect – no idea what I was going to do. Careers like “enterprise software consulting” or “executive coaching” didn’t exist in those days. ERP software hadn’t even been invented. Still, somehow through a combination of hard work, continuous learning and (a lot of) luck, I now do what I was born to do.

Although I’m not a journalist, I use my writing skills every day doing ERP software documentation, training materials, work instructions and presentations for my enterprise software consulting business. I love writing blogs for business, LinkedIn and my personal WordPress site. I still think of myself as John Boy, and I’m still creative in my own ways.

In my spare time, I’m constantly outside with my family and enjoying hobbies that allow me to work with my hands – so I satisfy my “inner carpenter”. All of my other passions, like basketball and NFL football, I enjoy outside of my job.

I think that my story illustrates several insights that may help you find what you love to do much more quickly than I did:

  1. People don’t understand that they have transferable skills that are useful if they’re switching careers, jobs or even starting their own businesses. If you’re not aware of what these are, do an inventory of them right now.
  2. Parents and schools do not stress writing and other creative pursuits such as art near enough. Great writing is almost a lost art in our educational system, and being able to write is one of the most important skills you can offer a potential employer. If you’re not writing anything or encouraging your kids to write, then please do.
  3. Throughout your career, even if you don’t like your current job, you should always be in “continuous learning” mode. At the very least you can perform at a higher level and move up the corporate ladder. At the best you can use it to build the skills you need to become a successful entrepreneur.

Amazingly, the things that I do every day in my job are the things that I’ve always loved to do since I was a kid. I just didn’t know that I was preparing all my life for my dream job! Sadly my Dad passed away before he could see me get there. I so wish I could tell him that you can do what you love…no matter where your career journey takes you. Miss you, Dad.

If you have a career journey that you feel will help others to find what they love or land their dream job, then I hope you will share it with us in the comments below. I’m always interested to hear other people’s stories about pursuing their passions. If I can do anything to help you achieve your dreams, then I’m happy to connect on the social networks below.

Thanks for reading my post!

Posted by Dan Aldridge

Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. Dan has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. He has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies. He is a serial entrepreneur and blogger with his new site inforln.com.

You can reach Dan on e-mail at dan(dot)aldridge(at)i-app.com or on his social networks: About.me, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoop.it, WordPress,SlidesharePinterest and Facebook. His company is on LinkedIn,Twitter,Facebook,Google+,YouTube, Scoop.it and Slideshare.