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Should the young be discouraged from following their dreams?

July 3, 2014

According to Ben Carpenter, a Wall Street veteran with a new career-development book, young people shouldn't necessarily be encouraged to "follow their dreams" or "feed their passion." Rather, they should be focusing more on what they're good at.

"I know it can be difficult to sacrifice your greatest passion for what's actually viable in the cold light of day," Mr. Carpenter said in a press release.

His new book, "The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life," advices young job seekers to ask themselves some hard questions: What are my talents and skills? What careers match up with them? In what fields might they be most in demand?

While "some people are lucky" in matching their passions with their careers, he recommends "pursuing a career path that you're reasonably sure will pay dividends, rather than placing a shaky bet on being able to beat the odds."

Mr. Carpenter argues that it's naturally easier to find a job that matches your skill set and also likely more fulfilling — though less "entertaining" — to have a long career doing a job well rather than finding "a long string of disappointments and unmet goals."

As far as passions, "work is work" and 40 hours a week at any job eventually becomes "drudgery." The "lucky" coveted jobs often lead to unpredictable hours, extreme pressure and unreasonable expectations.

"On the other hand, if your strategy is to match your skills to a job, you'll probably put more thought and research into your search, and your perspective will be more balanced," Mr. Carpenter wrote.

The book arrives as the NRF has rolled out its "This is Retail" campaign and other recruiting initiatives to overcome the perception that retail doesn't offer "richly rewarding and diverse career opportunities." Said Matthew Shay, CEO and president, of the launch of campaign last year, "Across the country, too many people still think retail is low-wage, low-tech, and low-talent. And if we don't start to dispel these myths, then we won't be able to compete for the high-quality talent our industry needs."

Discussion Questions:

Did you "follow your passion" or focus on what you're good at in building your career? Do you have any regrets? Does encouraging young people to follow their passions rather than their skill sets amount to bad career advice?

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Instant Poll:

Should retailers position their companies as a more practical career choice for high school and college graduates?

Comments:

The path to ruin can be "follow your passion." I can't tell you how many people have come up to me at trade shows after a speech and tell me "I am really good at buying things—that's my passion" but don't know how to run their business and make a profit.

20 years ago this month I walked out of a stable job as an executive in the retail business because the owner said the greatest asset a business has is its customers. I said, no your only asset is your employees. I'm out.

It took me a few months until I went to a Tony Robbins seminar to hear him say that you need to brand yourself so you stand out with customers. The Retail Doctor was born.

While I liked to talk, I didn't have a passion to talk. While I liked to give advice, I didn't have much experience getting paid for it.

It took work, it took time, it took adopting skills and always looking for how to improve. It has become my passion but wasn't my passion.

No regrets.

I would say to young people that your passion should be to learn, not a skill you "like" doing. The JK Rowling, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg stories are exceptions—not the rule, and even they had to struggle.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Rather than choose practical over passion, I have encouraged my children to blend both. Work takes up the majority of waking hours, so we should be doing something we are passionate about. Personally, I can imagine few things worse than working (and I know few people who work only 40 hours a week) in a job that failed to inspire. My advice has been to find fields where you want to work and then adapt your talents to positions in those fields. If you take the passion out of work it becomes drudgery.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I didn't know I had a passion and I stumbled into my career—because I could type. That was not unusual for women in the '60s. My passion is curiosity. That's why I went for my MBA; I wanted to know what companies did with the research results I provided. I didn't know I was an entrepreneur until I guessed the conglomerate was ready to sell off the company I worked for. Then I asked my colleagues to join me and buy the company. It was instinctive.

So if you're young and don't think you have a passion, go for what you're good at that will give you gratification. Look for a company that you can respect, where you can learn and where you will enjoy the people you work with. When you're young there are many roads you can take and opportunities to restart. No one should think they have only one chance at being satisfied in their career.

There's a movie, "Sliding Doors", that illustrates how random life can be. It's not a super-great movie, but the message is spot on. What would have happened if you chose the other door? If you're young, you still have a chance to step in and see for yourself.

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Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

Pragmatism ruled when I was at the career-deciding stage. My passion, music, was not going to pay the bills. My degree in engineering was not opening any doors. But my part-time job in a supermarket paid well and I was offered a management-track position.
Somewhere way in the back corners of my head I can still hear "Work is work. Fun is fun. Work isn't fun. Fun isn't work." Not sure where it came from, but pretty sure I didn't come up with that on my own.

Today I see youth who drift after graduation because they don't think they can work at a job that is beneath their dream. Maybe we gave them too many trophies as kids. Entitlement is a career path inhibitor.

I see other young graduates donating a couple of years to public service agencies such as AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity, just to name a couple. They are the smart ones, the ones who won't be stuck waiting for the dream job to show up.

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Dan Raftery, President, Raftery Resource Network Inc.

I've been in the grocery business all my life. One regret might be that I was not aware of some really cool grocers like Publix, Wegmans, HEB and WinCo when I was in college, and that working for one of them is really a huge step up in class compared to the sterile publicly held chain stores. I believe I would have done well with one of them or a privately held regional chain.

At first I was horrible at my jobs after college and was fired. Then I hooked up with a company doing site location analysis. I was bad at it but loved it. Decided I was going to be the best at it by outworking and outsmarting my coworkers. In my opinion, I went from being the worst employee to the best. The result was that I was recruited by a competitor for a really well paying, cushy management job. Within six or seven years I kept up the workaholic pace and was moonlighting nearly every weekend and using up all my vacations. By the time I was in my early-40s I could have easily retired but I was having too much fun. I wasn't ready to give up the recognition and encouragement.

My advice is to find something you love and just go full throttle. The money will soon follow. Once you realize you have a fatter wallet than your boss, his boss and most of your colleagues you can tolerate just about any difficult situation. Confidence is bliss when you have no fear of being fired. More advice for the young is, think about if you were guaranteed not to fail, what job would you pick? Go do that job.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Deciding on a career path is one of the most difficult decisions a young person has to make. How many of us know at 17 or 18 years of age what we want to do for the rest of our lives? Or maybe we do not know what we want to do to start out in life. Those that do are fortunate. But I wonder how many who did know are still following the same dream.
I believe strongly that if you have a passion you should follow it. "Take your passion and make it happen" were the well-known words from a song whose title I forget as I am writing this. Was it from Rocky?

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

The question posed by this article is like that of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Not sure there is a right answer but am going to take a shot at it.

The real question is, is your passion something that is just a dream, or something that you feel is something that is real, obtainable and you are willing to pay the price to achieve? On the hiring side, most people who say they are passionate about something are not truly passionate about it, meaning they are not willing to pay the price to make it a reality. Along with the passion, one also needs to have the talent and be willing to develop the skill (these people are few and far between).

In most cases, if people will focus on what they are good at, they will find themselves being very successful and then have the ability to pursue their passion as an avocation.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

Some time in my early teens my Mom said don't go into retail. At the time she worked for Sears, Roebuck & Company and as a woman had found the road to advancement difficult. The good news was shortly afterwards she got the promotions she deserved.

At 16 I got a job at supermarket and found I loved the work and never left the retail food industry. I earned an associate's degree in food distribution, then a bachelor's degree in agricultural and food economics and finally secured an MBA. During that time, I transitioned from supermarkets to c-stores.

I was also fortunate to work initially for an entrepreneurial organization and help grow it, and then a major oil company and help them begin the transition from gas stations to convenience retailing. Both helped prepare me to take the next step.

Like Bob, a little over 20 years ago circumstances allowed me to found a consultancy that specializes in working with retailers and suppliers in what has become the convenience, retail and fuel marketing industry. I am one of the fortunate ones—I found an industry I love and have been able work in it throughout my career.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

It is through people following their passions that our economy gains new technologies, creates new industries and grows small businesses, sometimes into global enterprises, i.e., Apple, Google, IBM—to name just a few.

I have faith in young people and their passions to excel, along with their idealistic egos, which often enable them to succeed. There will always be someone in business saying "No." The truly passionate will disregard this advice and either soar to success or reach a point where reality sets in and then fall back to a job that fits their skills. The important thing is to have tried.

I'm in the "follow your passion" crowd.

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Karen S. Herman, Founder & Design Director, Gustie Creative LLC

My passion for the food business started at 4 years old working by my dad's side, and really what could be better than that?

I have through the years filled up a bucket list of jobs/careers that I needed to try. At 18 I wanted to go to USC and become a comedian/actor, and my practical dad said NO. He told me "you will drink a lot on the beach, and probably flunk out. Go into a business degree, or anything else, and get something secure for your family someday." He was right about one thing, as I probably would have drank on the beach, but I wouldn't have flunked out. Anyway, I got my degree in business from Ohio State(Go Bucks), and eventually managed the business and then bought out my Dad in 1999.

Previous to owning the store, I entered an amateur show and won, earning a $10 bill signed by my friends, and still have it today. I was asked to MC a comedy show at a local resort for the summer, and ended up doing stand-up for 3 years, and got paid for it. Had a blast, and afterwords I continue to do stand-up for local charity events (okay, one item on the bucket list done).

Believe it or not, I wanted to wait tables in a restaurant, and moonlighted when I was first married to make extra money. Loved it, as it the ultimate test of your ability to offer great service, and I made good money doing it (scratch off another bucket list item).

The point is, I never lost my passion for other things, even though I love the food business, and I took the time to do these things without it causing me to lose focus on the prize of owning my own business. I now blog here, and work for 3 brokers on hot deals, and love doing consulting as well.

It takes passion to do any job well, and I encourage anyone to follow their dreams, with a dose of reality thrown in. Life is short, so pursue your dreams, and remember to focus on the prize, thru hard work, and your dreams will come true.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

I wanted to be an architect, and followed that right up until I got my first college midterm back...at which point I realized "following my dream" would likely lead to compromise, disappointment and low salaries. So I vote with Ben, though the obvious question is, why you wouldn't also be "passionate" about something you were good at (I would like to think I'm ALMOST as good at working a spreadsheet as a t-square)?
But enough about that: I want Mr. Shay to tell us more about how "retail is low-wage, low-tech, and low-talent" is a myth...which part of it?

'notcom'

I'm one of the lucky ones and have been doing what I love since I was a kid. I just do it more serious—and for more money today. That said, why can't what we're good at and what we're passionate about be the same? For many, it is.

By the way, I do have a passion for playing ice hockey. I recognize I'm not that good at it. I'll never be pro, but I have a blast playing with my friends three mornings a week. By the way, we're in our 50s.

I hang around a lot of entrepreneurs who chose their path. They were good at business in general and adapted their skill to the business they are in. They didn't go out and say, I'll be a retailer specializing in (fill in the blank ___). They play to their strengths, which is business. They then pursue a business that they can be passionate about.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

They usually go together. With some exceptions, most people are passionate about what they are good at. I was always a good writer and liked it. As I grew older, I become more passionate about writing. It led to a career. No regrets.

Meanwhile, it is wrong to encourage young people to follow their passion for some skill or career if they don't have the talent for it. One can be passionate about playing the piano and not have the skill for a career as a pianist. That was my story. I still like playing for myself though.

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John Karolefski, Editor in Chief, CPGmatters.com

I liked what Steve Job's said relating to this piece and your questions.

The retail industry provided its own passion—so much happened and is happening that there is no end to the opportunities! I was lucky to stumble into this industry and experience for the last 30 years (it will be in 2015).

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

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