15-15 Story 2: Roadmap: Learning to let go and follow your dreams

 

Synopsis: Not everyone is able to follow their dream into a career that they truly love. People have debt, family obligations and are possibly just not talented enough to make a living working at what they’ve always dreamed of doing. Our guest says that he’s talked to people who have found ways of incorporating their dreams into their lives in very creative – and lucrative — ways, and he’ll pass along some advice on just how to do it.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guest: Nathan Gebhard, co-creator of the PBS documentary series “Roadtrip Nation,” and co-author of the book, “Roadmap: The get-it-together guide for figuring out what to do with your life.”

Links for more info:

Roadmap: Finding and doing what you love

Marty Peterson: Millions of young people will be graduating from college this spring, and many of them don’t have job offers or are not sure what kind of work they want to do. That was the situation Nate Gebhard and two of his friends found themselves in after college. Gebhard was always interested in art and design, but didn’t know how to translate that into anything but being a painter – a life his friends cautioned him would leave him in poverty. So he did what a lot of graduating seniors do – he went to a job fair and handed out his resume to business consultants. He spoke at length to one of them, and found out what the man basically did was wear a suit all day…

Nathan Gebhard: And that was like a really silly thing. He absolutely loved his job but he wore a suit. And as much as I knew myself, I knew I couldn’t wear a suit. So it kind of shattered my worldview of what I was going to become. And myself and my other co-founders had the exact same thing – whether it was looking at a family business, or wanting to be a doctor and realizing you hated hospitals. And so our solution to this kind of quandary was let’s travel the country and talk to people who have really figured out this thing called “life,” and ask them those deep questions of, “Did they always have it figured out?” “Did they struggle?” “How did they deal with failure?” What became this simple idea of trying to address our own challenges, became this road trip that lasted three months where we interviewed anybody from Sandra Day O’Connor, to Michael Dell, to lobster men in Maine, to the director of Saturday Night Live, and asked them those deep personal questions. And, yeah, that first road trip was nearly 15 years ago and we’ve been putting other people on the road ever since.

Peterson: That road trip turned into the P-B-S documentary series “Roadtrip Nation,” and now a book titled “Roadmap: The get-it-together guide for figuring out what to do with your life.” Gebhard says that all too often we find ourselves in a job or life situation that we aren’t happy with but we can’t find our way out of it. Sometimes it’s because we need the money that a job provides; sometimes it’s because others – parents, friends, spouses – have pushed us into it. And sometimes it’s because it’s the “safe” road to take…

Gebhard: I think there’s a part of it’s risky and it’s scary to do the unknown. Ira Glass talked about this gap that we have between, if you have an interest you know, like for me I was interested art and design, but I couldn’t create anything that was like remotely good. So there was this huge gap between the skill set that I have and the ability that I have to critique my work. And many of us don’t stay in that interest long enough an develop the skill sets to be able to kind of bridge that gap. The primary challenge that myself and all the road-trippers since have found is that it’s an issue of exposure. So everybody around you is doctors or lawyers, or everybody around you is teachers, that’s generally what you know.

Peterson: He says that through the series, “Roadtrip Nation,” they’ve talked to many people about their lives and come to realize that you don’t have to give up a dream to pursue a career – you just have to figure out how to combine the two…

Gebhard: Because now you can see that, “Oh, I like art and I like snowboarding, and I’ve just interviewed    the designer that puts all the art on snowboards.” That’s not an abstract anymore, that’s a reality, that’s a possibility. And so I think the fundamental issue is the lack of exposure that we all have. What people do say is “You should be a lawyer.” And I actually love law, I think it’s fascinating. But the message I needed to hear when I was younger is, “Oh, you’re interested in surfing and law. Well there’s a million surfing companies out there. Why don’t you be the lawyer for one of them?” To kind of mash up these interests. It’s something we saw time and time again on the road, that people didn’t have just a single interests, they had multiple interests. And the brilliance of their life when we met with them is that they blended these things together. And that’s a complexity that I think you don’t get in the few minutes that you get at a high school or a college career counselor.

Peterson: The people they’ve interviewed for the series and the stories in the book don’t necessarily have the education that goes along with their dream occupation, but they were willing to put in the time to learn. One case he cites is news anchor, Soledad O’Brien…

Gebhard: She knew she wasn’t skilled when she started out in news, but she knew she could work harder than anybody else. And that was the thing that gave her the grit or the tenacity to push through.

Peterson: There are also those who try to pursue their dream and find out that they have to change course a bit on the way, like Jad Abumrad. He loved sound, and wanted to be a composer for films, but found he didn’t have what others had to succeed in that field.

Gebhard: He said I really do love sound. I really do love this element of kind of creating a audio landscape. And his girlfriend at the time, now wife, suggested “You know, why don’t you think about radio? Like there’s a storytelling element that I know you’re passionate about, there’s the audio element. Can you put those two together?” And if you look at what RadioLab has become today, that’s a total manifestation of actually Jad’s failure as a composer for the movies, but a success in terms of reapplying that piece. And the fundamental element I would say is that it’s about people knowing their interest and then staying proximity as they iterate it off of that.

Peterson: Mash-ups of interests and salable skills can go from the simple to the downright crazy. But Gebhard says that no matter what off-the-wall career you might want, there’s probably already someone doing it…as he found out during a live presentation at a school…

Gebhard: We ask the students in the audience, you know, what are they interested in? And generally you’re going to get a lot of people…and we asked them to combine interests, so like art and writing, sports and science, you know whatever it is, and then come up with an occupation. And one of these kids, I think was kind of just trying to mess with us and literally said “I like walking and turtles. I want to be a turtle walker.” So as part of the presentation we played a video, and then behind the scenes our staff is Googling “turtle walking.” And we literally found a woman who worked at a rehabilitation center for turtles, and brought the student up on stage and made him cold call her and in that moment with probably about 500 people in the audience, two seconds ago he was making a joke, and now he was actually talking to a real-life turtle walker.

Peterson: In the book there are not just stories, but also exercises you can do to focus in on just what your interests are and how to pursue them. Gebhard shows you how to find the two things you need to get started…your foundations and core interests…

Gebhard: The concept of interests and foundation…you know foundation in the very fundamental sense is “who am I at my core?” So in my sense I’m completely interested and captivated by making things. It’s the place where I lose track of time, when I’m just making something. Whether it’s with my kids, a website, a boat, a book, it really doesn’t matter. But how I manifest that foundation of making things is the interests that I have. So I’m really interested in art, and design and technology and so the idea and the concept of Roadmap is to take this foundation that you have and these interests and bring them together and then look for different opportunities where you can kind of move and pursue that.

Peterson: Gebhard says that the manner in which you approach a change depends a great deal on your life at the moment and the responsibilities you have to meet…

Gebhard: If you’ve got a family, if you’ve got student debt, your leaps might need to be much more baby steps and be more incremental. So it’s about, let’s say I’m a lawyer in criminal justice but I just am not finding a passion there. What I really love is cars. Maybe it’s about still being a lawyer and then laterally moving over to a lawyer within Ford. Then from within Ford you can kind of go different ways.

Peterson: Everyone is so busy these days, though, and it’s not easy to find the time to pursue your interests after you get home from work or school and maybe have family obligations. Gebhard says we probably have more time than we think, and provides a calendar in the book to track just how much “spare time” you have and how you use it…

Gebhard: It’s a very informative exercise that we do with ourselves, which is just lay out the time. Look at a week and really think about all of those opportunities that you’re using your time and how those decisions are made. I’ve got three kids, so I’m very in touch with how little time I have. But if I literally added up all the time that I’m on Instagram throughout the week, if I just applied that to actually looking at designers on Instagram, and then that allowed me to start following those designers and then reaching out to them on Twitter and then taking out one of the to coffee. Those are lots of little incremental steps. I could probably take a free class on design at Skill Share or General Assembly or something like that. And that’s just about reprioritizing that time away from just mindless social media to like intentional social media and then branching out. So it’s not to say that you have to make these huge leaps. You can kind of just reprioritize the time you have.

Peterson: Gebhard says that they didn’t want the book to just be something you read once and then never came back to. That’s why they constructed it like a workbook with exercises and activities that can put readers on the path to finding their life’s work…

Gebhard: The whole book kind of culminates with a fourth section which is all these different projects. It’s not little activities that are within the pages, but actual projects you can kind of take on with this kind of new approach. So it would be blogging about an interest that you have, it would be traveling to a new place that kind of encapsulates that interest. You know if you’re interested in music, can you take a trip down to Austin and really get a sense of all the different lives around the world of music. Those projects and the activities of the book are just a fundamental piece and really kind of where we started when we thought about what this book should be.

Peterson: You can find the book, “RoadMap,” at bookstores and online. You can also find more about the “Roadtrip Nation” series, Nate Gebhard and his partners on their website at RoadtripNation.com. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.

 

 

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