Recently, I read an autobiographical novel about a writer living in Paris and discovered that the author pretty much has my dream career. Along with books, she writes advertising copy, newspaper articles, and even a blog. She gets paid to write about her interests and adventures. Through writing, she’s shaped her ideal lifestyle into a job. She makes money doing what she loves and follows her passions for a living–what more could a girl want?
I was dying to pick her brain and see how she does what she does, so I contacted her through her website and asked if she’d be willing to meet me for coffee while I’m in New York. Imagine how thrilled I was when she responded to my inquiry with a sweet note suggesting that we meet at City Bakery for pastries and hot chocolate before work.
I knew then that we’d get along swimmingly. Hot chocolate is my favorite, and City Bakery delivered. Their chocolat chaud is thick and creamy and absolutely loaded with chocolate. It tastes more like molten cocoa soup–or hot brownie batter from the gods–than it does like a breakfast drink. I slurped it as gracefully as I could while nibbling at one of City Bakery’s other signature creations, a pretzel croissant, which was a perfect counterpart to the heavy sweetness of the cocoa. It was airy and light with just enough salt. I could have eaten three. Dare I say the “cretzel” might just be better than the cronut?
Delightfully, my writer is just as friendly in person as she sounds on paper. We had a great time talking for an hour about writing and how to choose the right writing job for you.
Her job sounds pretty darn great. As a creative director at an ad agency, she not only gets to work on fun projects, she also has the freedom to pursue other things outside of work–like editorial writing or, say, moving to Europe and writing a book. She’s able to do what she loves and make money while doing it, which I really admire.
When I asked her as politely as I could how to copy her exact career and life, she said, “follow your bliss.” I love that phrase, and I think it’s good counsel–we deserve to do work we love, right? I don’t think you can achieve greatness in your work without being passionate about it, because that passion fuels the desire to learn and grow in a way that plain ambition can’t measure up to.
Trying to follow my bliss and direct myself into a creative career isn’t easy. There’s no “pre-art director” track at USC like there’s pre-med, no “design entrepreneurship” or “creative development” majors. As I pointed out to my writer over the last flakes of our croissants, each mentor I’ve spoken with has taken a unique path to their current creative position, seemingly impossible to replicate. How am I supposed to make a path of my own without a template to follow?
Instead of just telling me to chill out and enjoy my youth, which is what most people do when I ask them anxiety-fueled Type A questions like that one, she took my question seriously and gave me a thoughtful answer. Each person’s path is unique, yes, she explained, but not completely random. Most people’s success is a blend of hard work and a little bit of luck. If you work hard and you jump on those lucky opportunities when they arise, things will happen.
I left feeling re-inspired to pursue the scary, difficult things I love. If you’re high-achieving and anxious like I am, it’s great to talk to people who have been where you are and can reassure you that you’re pointing in the right direction. Although they might seem nerve-wracking or unnecessary at first, “informational interviews” with people you look up to are invaluable. They can give you great advice and further, great insight into what kind of career you want to pursue. And if you continue to nurture the connection after the interview, you can start to build a network of mentors who might be there for guidance when you need it later.
I’ll end with a challenge. Find three people who have jobs you might want someday. It doesn’t matter if they’re people you know, people your parents know, or people you don’t know at all. Reach out to them and ask if they might give you a half hour of their time. You might be shocked at how helpful they are.
Have you ever done an “informational interview” with a mentor or role model in your industry? Any tips on making the most of the meeting?