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It was a hot summer’s day in Philadelphia, 100 degrees in the street with 98 percent humidity. I came home with chocolate syrup and strawberries all over my white uniform after another stressful day of driving a Mr. Softee’s ice cream truck in the hood. My father looked at me and said, “Son, how’d it go today.” I told him, “I spent half the day arguing with people who were trying to cheat me over a twenty–five cent ice cream cone and the rest trying to stop them from stealing the whole truck! In a way I can’t blame them we were all hot and miserable. I think I’m going to quit.” My father looked at me and said, “Son, I understand – you don’t know the secret of life! “What’s that I said”, excitedly. He said, “Make money and prosper doing what you like and pay others to do the things you don’t.” “What’s so secret about that?” I responded. “Most people I know,” he answered “make their living continuing to doing things that they did before, went to school for or pays them the most money, but it’s rarely what they love. They end up marking time until they get to retirement to do what they truly want. The secret is don’t wait! How many people went to school to learn what they thought was an exciting profession, but now find themselves spending most of their time in a cubicle banging away on a computer keyboard. Or how many people do you know who spend their money on music, art and being out in nature but make their living doing mundane things that have nothing to do with what they love?” “You’ve got to pay your bills,” I said. “Yes, yes,” he responded. “But that’s the secret of life! You can have it both ways. If you do what you like you’ll do it often and enjoy doing it. If you do something often you can get good at it and eventually you’ll get paid. The responsibility of paying your bills is always there, but why not enjoy yourself? After all this is the only life you have.”

My father’s conversation floated around in the back of my brain for years. I became a career counselor for a jobs program and one day it all came into view. I realized that yes, there are bills and the fear of failure, but the biggest obstacle was that most of the people I was counseling, never knew what they really liked to do. They were always driven by the three forces that my father had described years before: what they currently did for a living or what they had experience in, and the need for money. So I developed an exercise to help people discover what they like.

I asked the class, “How may of you have ever spent 8 full hours just thinking about what you like (out of 25 people one hand went up). I want you to spend the next three hours making three list, no matter how long, wishful, trivial or mundane, of what you like, what you don’t like, and what you did, do or know how to do for a living. We’ll take an hour for lunch where you can share what you wrote with each other if you choose to do so. After lunch I want you to draw lines connecting what you like, what you don’t and what you did or do for a living, and we’ll discuss the results” It was amazing how few people were really connected with what they like. Most people in every class had more lines connecting what they did to what they didn’t like, than to what they liked and wanted to do. The next step was obvious. I told them, “Now that you’re closer to knowing what you like you need to plan your work and work your plan. If you know what you like to do and you’re not doing it find some place to volunteer – someone will be glad to have you and you’ll get better. If you are doing what you like but it can’t support you – go to school, improve yourself. If you’re doing what you don’t like and it doesn’t pay well – find another job quick!

Some of the people I counseled did go on to have successful careers and told me they enjoyed their work and that my counseling exercise had helped. Any time I’d run into a past student I would always ask, “Are you doing what you love?” Many said yes. I realized that the secret of life is about the journey not just the destination. For myself, I realized I enjoyed a life style of just walking and talking, and recently I discovered writing an occasional story. Are you doing what you love??

Winston Burton
Former Career Counselor