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Nobody gives you your dream job. You just make it.

Let me start with two quotes:

[quote]The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.[/quote]
― Roseanne Barr

This seems to be a variation of Malcolm X’s saying:

[quote]Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.[/quote]

The “if you’re a man” part is slightly unsuitable on this website, but otherwise Malcolm X’s quote is just as good for what I will talk about today. I want to talk about finding your dream job and what I’ve learnt on how to go about it. As you can see in the title, I have come to the conclusion that your dream job does not exist anywhere. Nobody else has created it for you. Whenever you work for someone else, you are serving their interest, not yours. Of course there may be an overlap for some time and to some degree. But it will rarely be you dream job.

You might say you know people who have found their dream job, and you are probably right, but how many people do you know? Perhaps 1% of the people you know, if not less? So let me talk for the other 99% of people. And for those 99% of people, the sooner they realise that their dream job will only exist once they make it, the better.

I became more and more sure of this a couple of months ago, and let me tell you how. Because I am part of the McKinsey alumni network, and I am one of the very few alumni who now work as traders, I frequently get emails from associates and EMs (project managers) at McKinsey looking to switch to a hedge fund or investment management. I am always happy to help, especially now that I have set up a career website, it’s a great way to see what people in the industry are trying to do, what their motivations are and how easily they can switch jobs. So I had a call with a McKinsey EM in one of the US offices who wanted to do equity investment management instead. He had talked to hedge funds and asset managers and found it hard to switch. He said he really wanted to invest in equities but had exhausted his options and didn’t know what more he could do. It sounded like his dream was to invest in stocks for a living but he kept working at McKinsey because he hadn’t found an alternative job, and he didn’t have much time to spend on job search or on researching equities because he was working such long hours at McKinsey.

It just freaked me out. If you want to invest in equities, just do it! If you have $10,000 or $20,000 (and I assume you should have at least that after working at McKinsey for a couple of years), who can stop you from investing in equities? If it goes well, great, you generate income from it, and your capital will grow over time. If it doesn’t go well, well then maybe it’s not the best thing to consider as your dream job. If you do really well, maybe you don’t need the job and can just do it for yourself. Or you can go to any company and show them your track record and they will hire you.

It works with a lot of things. When I went on maternity leave, I was planning to write a book about my time at McKinsey, and another one on my experience on the trading floor during the financial crisis (the McKinsey one is half finished, the other one I think will take some more time), and I was starting to worry about how to find a publisher and all that, until I realised I don’t need to wait for anyone to give me approval. I will just write it and publish it myself, and there you go, I am free and I don’t depend on anyone to make it happen (it doesn’t mean it won’t help me a lot to reach out to others for help, what I mean is that I don’t need to kill my dream just because some editor or publisher doesn’t like my work).

With all the technology today, there are really very few things you cannot do if you are passionate about them, and the barriers are breaking down. The only fields that still have heavy restrictions are probably law and medicine, but beyond that, who can stop you from pursuing your dream? Don’t wait for anyone to give you a job. If you want to do something, just do it, and money will follow. Set up a website, write a book, invest your money yourself, find your own clients to consult, create a product, design a t-shirt, whatever. There is software for almost anything, you can google anything, you can outsource or learn whatever it is you cannot yet do yourself, and that way you don’t need to wait for anyone to give you approval or permission to pursue you dreams.

We spend so many years in highschool and university wondering what our dream job is, and the truth is, only you can make it happen. Nothing out there has been perfectly adapted to your passions and your talent yet, but the great thing is, nowadays, you can create it yourself.

So let me adapt Malcolm X’s words:

Nobody can give you a dream job or happiness or anything. If you’re smart, you just take it!


ps: wow, just when I published this, I saw this post by Tim Ferriss: 8 steps to getting what you want, without formal credentials. If you enjoyed my post, you will like this, too – slightly different angle, but same message: don’t wait, just do it!!!

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{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Jayme September 30, 2011, 7:38 PM

    Hi Anke! I love your adaptation of Malcolm X’s words and it’s a timely affirmation of the journey I am taking now.

    Recently, I’ve started a mission to pursue work that I’m really passionate about. It has nothing to do with what I studied in university and with the field I worked in for almost 10 years. And I find that, yes, only you have the power to create that perfect career for you.

    You have to take the initiative to learn what you need to learn, you show up for the opportunities that arrive and you establish relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals.

    And I agree, as the world wide web continues to thrive, everything is possible!

    • High Flying Ladies
      Twitter: ueberfliegernet
      September 30, 2011, 8:57 PM

      Hi Jayme, thank you so much for submitting highflyingladies’ first comment, yay!! It’s great to hear your inspirational story!! Does that mean you quit your previous job? I think great times are ahead for those who take advantage of the power of the internet and social media, the scaling made possible by global connections and technology are just incredible, and if you know how to use them to your advantage there is no limit! Keep in touch, I love your website design, I clearly have a lot to learn from you on that front :-).

      • Jayme October 1, 2011, 3:07 AM

        Yes, I resigned from my regular 9 – 5 job. ;) It’s kinda scary because I have a family to help support but I am also excited at the same time to finally be doing this. I want to set a good example for my kids that it’s possible to live your passion. :)

        I am planning to do a series on blog design in the coming weeks and I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks too for subscribing to my mailing list, I would be sending updates when my new posts are up. :)

  • Pedja G October 1, 2011, 11:23 PM

    Hello Anke!
    I like your point and the adaptation of Malcolm X’s words. It takes a lot of courage to get out of one’s comfort zone and embark on a journey of achieving the lifestyle one dreams of. I have just started my own journey so posts like this and people like you give me great support and comfort in tough moments when I ask myself should I go on or just give it up : )

    • High Flying Ladies
      Twitter: ueberfliegernet
      October 1, 2011, 11:29 PM

      Hi Pedja! thanks for leaving your comment! I am glad you found comfort in this post. I realise more and more the reason we hesitate is that most people around us do the usual thing and do not venture out. It is only when you start actively looking for people who go unconventional ways that you notice how many people there really are! I have found now that I focus on finding role models and success stories, I cannot believe how many people who just do their own thing are out there! I wish you good luck on your journey! It takes a lot of courage and determination.

  • Elif
    Twitter: PolymerPhD
    November 16, 2011, 8:16 AM

    Hi Anke,
    I’ve just found out about your website through LinkedIn. A friend of mine posted a link:) And I really enjoyed reading it.
    I’ve recently changed my job. Sometimes we must make a choice to take a chance, otherwise our lives will never change. Looking forward to your posts!

  • Gillian March 27, 2014, 1:20 AM

    Good stuff. Am really interested in McKinsey however am in Africa any pointers on how to go about it.

    • High Flying Ladies
      Twitter: ueberfliegernet
      May 23, 2014, 10:00 PM

      they have offices in SA and Nigeria as far as I am aware! other than that try working for a large corporate first (usually it’s telcos, oil firms and banks)

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