Did you know that David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airlines, was fired as president of Southwest Airlines? Did you know that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz offers comprehensive health insurance to all his employees, including part-timers, because his father didn’t have health insurance? What about the fact that Adam Steltzer, the lead engineer on the NASA mission that landed a rover on Mars, originally didn’t know that the stars moved?
We tend to think that the most successful people were destined for greatness. They had it all figured out in the beginning. They always knew what they wanted to do. But Nathan Gebhard, co-founder and creative director of Road Trip Nation, slapped down that theory in thousands of interviews all over the country with everyone from Schultz to singer John Legend to professional climber and photographer Jimmy Chin to Walter Murch, who essentially created surround sound.
RoadTrip Nation describes itself as a movement whose mission is to empower people to “define their own road in life instead of traveling down someone else’s.” Gebhard said that during the course of these interviews – which he’s been conducting for 15 years – he found that across the board, no matter what profession or level of success someone found, they all struggled with define who they were for themselves. The tireless interviews resulted in a soon to-be released book called Roadmap: The Get-it Together Guide For Figuring Out What To Do with Your Life.
“Without a doubt people chose to pursue an interest as opposed to an occupation,” he said, talking after his presentation at the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tx.
This doesn’t come without risk, of course. Gebhard recalled his talk with Ben Younger, a screenwriter and film director, who at 21 years old was the youngest campaign manager in New York City, quit his job to volunteer on a film set because he wanted to chase a career in film.
Gebhard made no bones about the fact that happiness – or instead success, however one defines it – happens in steps. He shared his three main pillars.
Ask yourself where your “noise” comes from. Is there pressure from your parents to be a lawyer, a doctor or a corporate businessman? Does the pressure come from friends that have found success in their own right and think you should follow a different path? Maybe one that leads to more money. Or is it self-doubt that traps you?
The road to your interest-based career path is a personal one and the first step is shutting out the surrounding noise that distracts you from figuring out what you really want to do with your life.
Think about the first questions that you ask when you met someone? Almost always, one of them is “what do you do?” Who you are is often defined by what career you have, Gebhard said. We are programmed to reverse-engineer our career paths. We pick a career and then seek out the steps to succeed in achieving that career.
Instead, Gebhard argues that we should first follow our core interests, grounded in the foundation of what intuitively makes us happy and fulfilled and use that as the compass to guide us toward a career path.
During his presentation, Gebhard offered an exercise with three intersecting circles. The central one asked that you write down your foundation and the two intersecting circles asked for two main interests. The exercise is meant to show how your interests can ultimately drive to a fulfilling career path.
He used an example of sportswriter, who found his path through a love of sports but also an interest in writing. He mentioned Jimmy Chin, whose passion lied in climbling, but discovered a love of photography as a means to fund his climbing efforts. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz has famously said he has a passion for serving people more than a passion for coffee.
Gebhard challenges people to follow a drip-drip-splash method. He explained that success happens in increments. It may start with a night class or a hobby that becomes a second job or, like Younger, who took a leap and quit his promising career path to purse something he was passionate about. The key, Gebhard says is to start with passion.
“If I was to take the thing that sounded most painful in my brain, it would be accounting. But I would only look at it as accounting. Now, if I was to take the route of someone we interviewed that does accounting. His brain knows how to make accounting work. But he also loves television. So he does the accounting for all these major television shows. Think of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, there’s an account for that show. We only think of the models on the stage.”