Road Less Traveled

Turning What You Love into What You Do

Like many other aspects of life these days, career planning has changed. However, many people still think of career planning in a linear paradigm. That is, they think it is a vertical pathway started by going to college. The linear approach is still happening in select careers/professions. However, the more common path to a career is a wavy, winding road filled with a wide assortment of career experiences. For many people, career planning is almost experimental.  The result of this change is we need to have a new conversation about career and life planning.

Turning What You Love into What You Do is based on the Road Less Traveled (RLT) series that appeared in Ohio’s AroundKent magazine. The articles feature the Road Less Traveled of 16 successful people from a wide assortment of careers.

There are eight common career themes and eight personal qualities that emerged from the Roads followed by the 16 subjects. The eight career themes identified are personal interests and experiences during youth; happiness comes from turning what you love into what you do; the arts, especially music, are a solid foundation; failure is seen as opportunity to learn and grow; everything is connected; “hard” soft skills; it is okay not to know; love of learning.

The eight personal qualities of successful people are that they take no shortcuts and accept all challenges; have an outlet; are optimistic; humbly live their mission; are community focused; love the arts and music; have a mix of interests; and are adaptable.

Together the experiences of the 16 people who are a part of the Road Less Traveled form a playbook for navigating life and careers and for turning what you love into what you do. This playbook applies to almost anyone—from those entering the workforce full time to those changing or returning to a career.

The end goal of this conversation about turning what you love into what you do is to be happy. Adults spend most of their lives engaged in three activities: sleeping, leisure, and work. Many adults will spend more time at work than either of the other two activities. And they will do it for a very long time. With people living longer, many young people today can expect an adult work life of 50 – 60 years! So, happiness at work is important to a happy life. The path to this happiness is to “turn what you love into what you do”. Students who are at risk and the professionals who support them will find the information in this resource helpful.

Value for at-risk youth

Poverty is usually abundant for youth at-risk and has a major impact on their overall well-being and opportunity. This results in fewer options and choices for them. Fewer options can lead to failure which often results in at-risk behaviors. They have a greater likelihood of failure due to lack of support and toxic environments that surround them.

They often lack the support that the laser-focused student has. They may be less inclined to seek the education and training necessary to transfer their passion into a livelihood.

Many at-risk youth are often creative and talented as out-of-the-box kinds of kids. Many are very talented in art or music. They are often passionate about interests and hobbies but may lack the motivation to act on them.

The examples, testimonials, and successes of the participants in the Road Less Traveled series offers valuable lessons and motivation for at-risk youth struggling to find their chosen paths and encouragement for those who work with those youth.

It’s Okay Not to Know

Do we really know? Many people think they know (or should know) exactly what they want to do in career/life. This is an expectation in our society. We know this because everyone is always asking us. We all heard it when we were graduating high school and college. We heard it everywhere and from everyone. Many young people will offer a stock answer to this question just so people will stop asking them. This is done with good intentions because people are concerned and hopeful for someone’s future. Most people want what is best for the people they care about.

The irony of this is very few people knew or know what they want to do; just ask them. A few people might know, but they are the exception. And even people who are sure of themselves and convinced they know what they want to do often wind up in a place they never expected. And how many times have you heard (or maybe even said) “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”  There seems to be no age limit to this statement. Even people who are gainfully employed and seem happy will say this.

None of the 16 RLT subjects knew they would wind up where they did. A few were certain of their plans while others had no idea. And those who knew what they wanted to do wound up surprising themselves. For example, Joan Meggitt (AroundKent Vol 19) was positive about becoming a lawyer but wound up becoming a dance professor. She even describes her RLT to becoming a dance professor as “accidental.” She was a sophomore in college before she even took a dance class!

Here are two more examples. Tom Fulton (AroundKent Vol 13) established and teaches at the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Academy.  After college he said he would never be a teacher and 40 years later he became a teacher. 40 years! Teaching became his second career, which he loves, after a successful career in almost every aspect of theatre. The RLT of George E. Miller II (AroundKent Vol.  12) is another good example. He went from working at the post office to creating his own niche in the art world. He established himself as a one-of-a-kind child advocacy artist. It seems a big part of success is to keep your mind and options open; be flexible.

“It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

Change the Conversation

We need to change the conversation from “what are you going to do now” to “it’s okay not to know ……as long as you are willing to find out.” Confucius advises us to “find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life”. The emphasis is on “find”. All RLT subjects found what they loved and have turned into what they do. Opportunities (at least the good ones) rarely find us. But if you have no idea what you want to do, then how would you ever find it?

Travel Tips from the Road Less Traveled (AboutKent Vol 11) informs us that what people enjoyed doing early in life is a good indication of what they love. Each RLT included activities and interests during youth that connected later with jobs and career. Ask yourself, what did I like to do when I was a kid. Where did you spend most of your time? Doing what? Many elementary school teachers loved playing “school” when they were kids. They usually played the role of the teacher. Did you have any hobbies or particular interests that you enjoyed or perhaps even “loved”? For example, maybe you liked to be outdoors, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and exploring. Think of all the career possibilities from these interests. It really makes no difference what love because everything is an industry. You can find jobs and careers from almost anything and everything if you are willing to do the homework.

So, rather than ask yourself or someone else “what are you going to do,” consider inquiring about their interests, hobbies, or what gets them excited. Focus the conversation on what they liked to do as a teen. Then brainstorm and explore the options and possibilities from their answer. This exploration has become much easier by doing a simple internet search. A little effort coupled with some creativity and initiative and you should have lots of options. Exploring those options can be the beginning of turning what you love into what you do.

Exploring Options

An initial lesson from the RLT is that “it’s okay not to know”. The last segment ended with “Exploring those options can be the beginning of turning what you love into what you do.” This segment provides a path for finding out what we want to do. This is easier than most people think. It just takes some initiative and effort keeping in mind that there are many stops along the career continuum. In the words of Confucius, “find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”

“What you love” is the easy part because it is your passion. Turning it into “what you do” is more involved. You must do something to convert what you love into a livelihood. Passion is essential but it often needs to be coupled with knowledge and skills that relate to a job or career. This usually means education. Some people prefer to be self-taught and go to the school of hard knocks. This path does lead to an education but in some ways is much harder than formal education.

Passion (what you love) and education/training (what you do) together are the formula for career satisfaction. The education part can be anything from a high school career program (cosmetology e.g.) to an associate degree (cyber security) to a bachelor’s degree (accounting) or beyond (dentist). One thing is for certain is education and lifelong learning move people along the various steps of the career continuum. Here are two examples.

Video games have been very popular with teenagers for many years. In fact, many previous teenagers are still passionate gamers as adults joining another generation of passionate teenagers. Some might look at this as wasting time while others think of it as an obsession. The fact is video gaming is a huge, world-wide industry with a wide assortment of career opportunities. If someone is willing to invest some time and initiative, a world of career opportunities emerge. 

All industries have trade/professional associations devoted to supporting a specific industry and those working in it. A great source to examine the video game career opportunities is to visit the website of the International Game Design Association. This group provides extensive information on everything related to the video game industry including career opportunities. One resource is the “career center” where career openings from around the world are listed. The group’s career mission is “to support and empower game developers in achieving fulfilling and sustainable careers. We offer many resources for both finding new opportunities and to improve your skills, knowledge, and applications to ensure you are provided with the best chance to succeed.” Sounds familiar. The website also includes dozens of local IGDA chapters with contact information for networking. This can be the start of turning what you love into what you do.

Another excellent example of this is the Staging Diva, Debra Gould. She says, “I’ve loved decorating since I was a kid playing with dolls— making houses and furniture out of cardboard boxes, scraps of fabric and anything else I could find lying around the house.”

Home staging has become a popular way to enhance the appearance of a home in preparation for selling it. Debra had done some staging of her own while buying and selling houses part-time. She realized she could teach other people to do the same and the Staging Diva was born. In effect, she combined her passion for decorating with her education/experience to figure out how to turn what she loves into what she does. She has a degree in marketing, an MBA and extensive corporate work experience.

She decided to add another chapter to her career continuum. Her comment sums up her desire to build on her education/experience by creating another opportunity to fit her lifestyle. She shares, “As an adult into my marketing career and a single mom in my 40s, I no longer wanted to be buried in high-pressure work. I wanted to be there for my daughter before and after school. Plus, I was determined to show her that it IS possible to follow your creative dreams and still support yourself. It just took me several years to figure out how!”

She realized her natural talent for decorating a house to sell could be a service that other home sellers would pay for! “It was an interesting journey taking my gifts and passions and figuring out how to make a living from my creativity while raising a kid on my own. My becoming a home stager changed everything for us!”

Anyone along the career continuum can learn from these two examples to seek out opportunities that enable them to turn what they love into what they do.

Everything Is Connected

Everything is connected, resulting in a career continuum which in many ways is the Road Less Traveled (RLT).

Each of the 16 RLT subjects has a career continuum. This is evident when you read each one and see how all their education and experience are connected. We learn from everyone and everything that happens to us along our RLT. Two subjects, Rachel Brown (AroundKent Vol.  18) and Marty Mordarski (AroundKent Vol. 5), will be featured as excellent examples of how “everything is connected”.

Usually the career continuum begins as a teenager often with hobbies and interests. Add a few part-time jobs in high school and/or college and the continuum starts to take shape. For example, if you learned and love to play a musical instrument in grade school you might join the middle school and/or high school band. Maybe you get a part-time job in a music store or start giving music lessons. By this time, you might also be in a band with some friends who have similar interests. Perhaps in college you elect to major in music or music education to become a music teacher. All these experiences and education define your career continuum because everything is connected. In this case, music will probably be a part your entire life. The same goes for interests in dance, business, art, outdoors, sports and so on.

The above description mirrors the RLT of Rachel Brown. She is a song writer, performer, singer, choir director and music teacher. She has toured professionally and been in numerous performing groups. She currently leads a popular group called Rachel and The Beatnik Playboys. Her day job is working as a middle school music and choir teacher.

All her professional/personal experiences and education (two degrees in music) are connected and define her career continuum. Even her community service is related to her RLT/career continuum. She is part of the Drew Project, a program that pairs wounded war veterans with song writers to write songs about their military experience. The chorus of a song she and a veteran wrote is in her RLT. Her continuum began as a young girl singing and playing at a music venue her parents set up in their backyard. Rachel, her parents, and her children still perform there for their friends to enjoy music.

Another good example that everything is connected is the RLT of Marty Mordarski. Marty loved music and sports all the way through school and college. He even had major league baseball tryouts while still in high school! He also loved keeping track of data and information. He had an extensive baseball card collection and went to great length to keep it organized. Together these interests and experiences set him on a career continuum that still reflects those interests. Each major step along his RLT involves the skill set of collecting and analyzing data.

The main theme in Marty’s career continuum is using data to improve personal and group performance. This began in grade school when he was the statistician for his 8th grade football team. He (and the coaches) were pleasantly surprised at what data could tell them about the team’s performance. Also, the data could guide preparation and performance during a game. Marty was way ahead of the game as what he was doing then is now called “analytics” in sports – keeping track of data to improve individual and group performance. He added a bachelor’s degree in business management/marketing to dig deeper into his interests. He has had three full-time professional positions since those days. In each position, he relies daily on his data analysis skill set. 

At the Employer’s Resource Council (ERC), he led the NorthCoast99 program which identifies the top 99 employers/organizations in Northeast Ohio. Analyzing the performance data of these organizations is essential to identifying them. From ERC, Marty took over leadership of the Cleveland chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance. The primary goal of this group is to improve the sports experiences of players and coaches in youth sports. Marty currently is Cleveland campus director of Tech Elevator). This school fast-tracks people into high tech IT coding positions in the region. Once again, he is using his extensive background and interest in data analysis to lead an organization.

A review of the RLT for both Rachel and Marty indicates their education and work history includes a definite pattern or theme of interconnected experiences. This enables them to leverage all their talent and experience into a seamless career continuum where everything is connected. The other RLT subjects have done the same.

The previous theme from the RLT advised that it’s “okay not to know.” Even so, with all the twists and turns in a career continuum, most people will have a theme that connects all those experiences.

The Career Continuum

An earlier segment explored the concept that “everything is connected” along the RLT and career continuum. This segment digs deeper into that idea by examining the stages of the career continuum using examples from the RLT subjects. Also, a lifeline exercise which illustrates the RLT/career continuum interplay is explained. Readers can conduct their personal lifeline to examine their career continuum/RLT. This can be very useful in reflecting on someone’s path at a particular point in life. It can also be helpful in projecting where someone’s path is headed.

The career continuum, a rather new concept, represents a series of jobs over a specific time period. The length varies based on the individual. For many years, employees worked for one employer their entire work lives, sometimes at the same job. Those days are gone for the most part though some employees (the exception) still spend their careers with one employer. 

There is a good bit of zigzagging that occurs along the career continuum which is affected by changes in technology, globalization, downsizing, work processes, and individual preferences. For example, one factor that causes considerable change is how quickly knowledge increases. In 1900 knowledge doubled every 100 years. A recent estimate is it doubles every 13 months. These changes continue throughout the career continuum. This results in people constantly adapting which makes job searching, additional training/education, lifelong learning, and career changing almost a basic skill.

There are four main stages along the career continuum: initial, mid, late and encore. An overview of the four stages follows with samples from the 16 RLT subjects.

  1. The initial stage of the career continuum consists of part-time work done as a teenager such as baby sitting, lawn mowing, and other part-time work probably in the restaurant industry. For example, 1/3 of Americans had their first job in a restaurant and 50% of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point. Also, the first “full-time” job(s) out of high school and/or college are included in this stage. This stage might also include various job/career changes probably into the mid-thirties.
  2. The mid stage continues with more job/career changes. This is also a time when some people realize they would prefer to do what they love. Perhaps they are 15 years into a career and feel it is time to change. The Staging Diva and Julie Messing, both mentioned earlier, are perfect examples of this. Both were successful business executives but elected to switch careers to provide more personal fulfillment.
  3. The late stage on the career continuum is usually when workers are well established in their career. At this point, hopefully, most people are enjoying what they do. If not, they may still seek other opportunities that provide more satisfaction.

4. The encore stage occurs near or after retirement when workers decide to continue working but only if they can do it on their terms. Tom Fulton, mentioned earlier, is a good example of the encore stage as he became a teacher after a 40-year career in the theater.

A lifeline

A lifeline chronicles a person’s interests, hobbies, activities, jobs, and careers. In some ways, it is the RLT as well as the career continuum. The easiest way to do a lifeline is to draw a line on a piece of paper and draw symbols to represent important aspects of your life. For example, if you and your family loved to camp you might draw a tree or camper. Perhaps you loved to play soccer so you would draw a soccer ball. This would continue to your present place in life. Most people usually have about 10-12 symbols representing the important parts of their life.

Conduct your lifeline and then consider the following as you review it.

What does the lifeline reveal about you and your career direction? Do you see multiple interests that can be combined to reveal new career opportunities? Can you project any future possibilities from reviewing the lifeline?

A major outcome of doing a lifeline is to identify a consistent theme along your path. What theme or pattern can you identify that connects your education, interests, and work experience? Themes were very evident for Marty and Rachel in an earlier segment. The RLTs of Joe Hendershott (Vol.15) and Nelson Burns (Vol. 8) are also good examples of a reoccurring theme. Though different in some respects, their Roads reveal a lifelong theme of service to others. Joe and his family use their nonprofit Hope4thewounded as their vehicle to support young people who are experiencing trauma. Mr. Burns is CEO and “servant leader” of Coleman Professional Services, a major counseling organization in Northeast Ohio. In both case,s their lifelines resembles a ministry which is evident in reading their RLTs.

Future articles will address another common quality in the RLT subjects: community engagement. All 16 subjects are very active in their communities. Specific examples from their RLTs will illustrate how and why this is important in the goal to “turn what you love into what you do”.

Seeing Failure as Opportunity

“The road to success is always under construction.” ~Lily Tomlin

Failure is an inevitable aspect of life. There is no way around it, though some people go to great lengths to avoid it and the inferior feelings that accompany it. The reality is that failure is part of life and the best response is to find a positive way to handle and learn from it. This is one of the characteristics of the subjects featured in the Road Less Traveled series.

Dealing with failure is difficult, as we all prefer things to go smoothly rather than stumbling and fumbling around. This may be especially important for people who have been sheltered or raised in an environment where things came easily and people cleared the way for them. The results can be people unwilling to take a risk, learn something new, or try something different. Fear of failure can keep people sheltered, isolated, and insulated.

Why is this important? Failure is unpleasant, especially in American society/culture that is heavily focused on success and winning. As such, many people overlook the value of learning from mistakes, including the maturity and discipline they foster.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; they are just the stepping-stones to success.”  ~Louis Zamperini, Unbroken

It is best to learn as much as possible from failure. Two examples of this are from sports and inventor Thomas Edison. Whenever a team loses (and sometimes even win), the players and coaches testify to learning from the experience. Many will talk about how the loss will motivate them to work harder and improve their performance. They see failure as an opportunity to grow and learn. Thomas Edison (over 1,000 patents) is another good example of learning from failure. He tried thousands of times to invent a filament that would make the lightbulb work. He viewed each “failure” as eliminating one more possible solution to the problem. It took him years of testing to find the solution, commenting on the process, “I was never myself discouraged.”  

Everyone has a Road Less Traveled and they are all filled with twists and turns, bumps and obstacles, starts and restarts. The RLT series is filled with examples of how subjects view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Two subjects, Gwen Rosenberg and George Miller III are featured in this blog segment. They are excellent examples of how failure can be turned into an opportunity for turning what you love into what you do.

Gwen Rosenberg (Volume 10), owner of Popped!, a shop in Kent, OH, and Ravenna, has been through a ton of failure on her RLT. As an entrepreneur who creates popcorn, candy and ice cream from scratch, she has made “endless little failures that propelled me in one direction or another.”  She has had dozens of jobs over the years, including probation officer, beekeeper, car sales representative, dog trainer, cake baker and candlestick maker. She is willing to tackle just about anything that comes her way, as she believes there “is no failure; only opportunities to learn.” She has a “full steam ahead” mindset, which is evident in her mantra: “Nobody is keeping track, so who cares if I stumble?” 

Another example of seeing failure as opportunity is artist George Miller, III of Jacksonville, FL (Volume 12). He thought he had a pretty good thing going as a professional artist focusing on the importance of literacy where he displayed his artwork at numerous educator conferences. Then the economic crash of 2008 hit and the conferences stopped. He no longer had lines of people waiting to purchase his artwork and found himself alone at his display table. Rather than get discouraged, George looked for the upside to the situation. The disappointment led him to rethink where his artwork could have additional impact. In effect, the failure prompted him to expand his artistic range and seek new markets. He added artwork for professionals in counseling and mental health to literacy educators. The downturn essentially jumpstarted him to redefine himself and morph into a one-of-a-kind child advocacy artist. He now enjoys a level of success he never imagined. He reflects on the downturn that almost led to bankruptcy as an “opportunity to survive.” 

We learn to accept and deal with failure by experiencing it. We need to be prepared for it as we would anything else in life. Rather than hide failure from children, parents and grandparents are better off to guide their children through it. Part of that guidance is to assist them in learning from it. There is always an upside to everything. It may take some time to find it, but it is always worth the effort when the goal is to turn what you love into what you. “The best education is from the University of Adversity. It’s the only institute of learning that rewards us when we fail.”  ~Jason Versey, A Walk with Prudence

Lean on Lifelong Learning

“There is always something new to learn” ~Tony Bennett

The quote above is from Just Getting Started by performing artist Tony Bennett who wrote the book at age 90. Lifelong learning is a primary theme of the book. Lifelong learning has become essential to life and career in a global world. A basic definition of lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”

All RLT subjects have leaned on lifelong learning along their paths to success. Previous segments have addressed the importance of learning from failure. Lifelong learning is the vehicle for adapting to the constant change that affects all of us each day at work and in daily living. 

Daily Living
Daily living requires lifelong learning all day, every day. Here are three brief examples: First, how many pages is your file of websites, passwords, and secret questions/answers? A whole bunch of learning went into assembling all those. Another example is something as basic as watching television. A local public library offers a community education course called “Watching Television” to assist people in navigating television viewing. And third, look at the sudden daily learning stemming from virtual/remote learning and working from home. Many parents and grandparents have now added teaching to all their other duties. A year ago, almost no one had heard of Zoom and now almost everyone has learned how to use it.

The Workplace
At one time, little changed in the workplace. This meant that someone could do mainly physical work and have a life-sustaining career. Assembly lines and manufacturing jobs were characterized by the phrase “check your brain at the door.” No more. The amount and rapid rate of change in globalization, technology and work processes have resulted in new workplace terms like “learning organization” and “knowledge worker.” The period from 2000 to 2020 is characterized by startling change, like the late 1800s when trains, telephones, lightbulbs, automobiles, and other inventions changed the nature of work and life in America. The workplace used to be the place someone went to each day to do their work. These places still exist. However, with the advent of remote work (much prompted by the Covid pandemic), the home has become the workplace for many workers. Remote work and remote learning are almost synonymous.

“Turning What You Love into What You Do” – Twice – Two RLT Examples
Lifelong learning is often connected to career changes and reinventing oneself. Some people are fortunate enough to extend their first career into a second one that is equally — or perhaps even more — satisfying. Many retirees are pursing this avenue often referred to as “encore.” In effect, they are launching a new phase of their RLT. The following two RLT alums are excellent examples of this. 

Joe Hendershott (Volume 15) had to learn entrepreneurship and small business management skills after leaving a successful career in higher education. He and his family started a consulting/resource group focused on training professionals to address the severe trauma needs of young people. His work as a consultant requires continuous learning since it is always changing. Also, his specialty area of working with traumatized children seems endless. The recent pandemic is a perfect example, as more and more children have been traumatized and require more intense intervention. Joe and his team are vigilant in investigating new approaches to assist professionals in addressing these new levels of trauma. 

Tom Fulton (Volume13) had to learn how to teach all aspects of theater as director of the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Academy. He transitioned from a theater practitioner to a teacher of it. Doing something and teaching it to someone else require specific skills focused on how people learn and the most effective was to teach them. All learners are different, and a teacher must have many tools available to use based on the specific students being taught. Somewhat like an artist who has many brushes and techniques to create different effects, a teacher must do the same. This is the skill set Tom learned to become effective in his new role as a teacher. This included taking eight graduate courses, leading to a master’s degree in education from Kent State University. The process took about three years of part-time study while teaching full-time. This on top of a bachelor’s degree in theater and 40 years of experience.  The amount and rate of change will continue at the workplace and in daily living. As the previous examples indicate, everyone will rely on lifelong learning to keep up with all the changes in a global world. The next segment will focus on how RLT subjects mixed their interests to turn what they love into what they do.

Turning What You Love into What You Do: Mix Your Interests to Create New Opportunities

Multiple Options
Many people find themselves conflicted with what they plan to do in their life/career. Sometimes this confusion is because they have many ideas, talents, and interests. It is difficult sometimes to decide what interests you most and where it can take you. In our world today, this is a good problem to have as it means you have lots of options. Think of those multiple interests and talents as avenues/options you can pursue in life and change gears as needed. This will be an even bigger premium in the future. 

Solving this problem takes considerable thought and exploration. A key point is to leverage these options. One characteristic of the Road Less Traveled (RLT) alums is they have multiple interests. This segment examines this concept with examples of two RLT subjects: Ann Kent (Volume 6) and Joan Meggitt (Volume 19). This segment also provides a three-step process readers can follow to leverage their interests. 

Here are a few related examples to set the tone for this concept. Authors John Gresham and Michael Crichton mixed their interests and became two popular writers. Gresham has a law degree and practiced law early in his career but mostly wrote about it. Similar life choices were made for Crichton, who had a medical degree from Harvard but never practiced medicine. Both leveraged their interests to create another career opportunity. Debra Gould, mentioned in an earlier article, took her love for decorating and matched it with her entrepreneurship experience and became the Staging Diva. Many college students double major, indicating they are mixing their interests, which most likely will result in new career opportunities. 

Two RLT alums with multiple interests
Ann Kent grew up playing piano. She was quite accomplished and had excellent opportunities to pursue a professional career. Her family was socially active. She felt a strong need to provide a voice to those who had been silenced. She wanted to use the healing power of music to help those in need. She blended her two interests and pursued a music therapy degree. She used this to launch a career as a music therapist in drug and alcohol treatment centers. After a few other stops in treatment centers, she spent several years working for Business Volunteers United. Her focus there was to assist companies to provide volunteer opportunities for their employees to support their communities. 

Joan Meggitt grew up surrounded by artistic interests. She loved music, dance and singing. These multiple interests were leveraged into a career spanning numerous positions in dance, including university professor positions. She blended all three talents/interests along with her years of experience to teach the “Yes I Can Dance” program Parkinson’s Dance Programs in Cleveland, Ohio. This movement program supports people with Parkinson’s disease to improve their mobility and social interaction. Joan’s class includes movement, singing, music and social interaction. 

Three Steps to Opportunity
The following three-step process can be used by anyone at any time to combine interests that can result in new opportunities. A high school senior is used as an example. The process includes information from previous blog segments.

Step 1 – Lifeline Exercise
Conduct the lifeline exercise identified in an article posted earlier in this series. Identify two or more interests and look for ways to combine them. For this example, the high school student grew up around water and spent lots of time swimming, water skiing and diving. She was on the high school dive team. She also loved to take pictures. She took a photography class which led her to the high school yearbook team. Her lifeline indicated two loves: water and photography.  

Step two – Explore
She thought she would explore possibilities by combining her two main interests. She did an internet search using the words “water and photography.” The search revealed a considerable amount of information on photographing water in all its various forms including waterfalls, rivers, rain and even underwater. Underwater photography caught her attention.

Step three – Access Resources
Professional/trade associations (Blog 3b) are excellent resources to learn about specific industries and career opportunities. The student did a search using “water and photography associations.”

The following two associations came up:
American Photographers Association (APA)
Photographic Society of America.

Both associations include extensive information, networking, seminars and links to a wide assortment of opportunities photographing the world of water. The APA even has a link for “underwater photography.” She plans to review the associations and may join them. This will help her chart a path to career opportunities. She can learn what kind of college major and experiences (perhaps a few internships) will prepare her for underwater photography. She will also identify people and organizations for career networking. 

People will spend most of their adult years at work. It is important to enjoy those years. One way to turn what you love into what you do is to mix multiple interests to create new opportunities as the RLT alums have done.

Humbly Live Your Mission

Life’s Mission
Many people live their life’s mission while others wish they had. If you turn what you love into what you do, you have a greater chance of living your mission in life. At a minimum, at least you will be happy. So how do you live life’s mission?

All Road Less Traveled (RLT) alums have a mission in life which provides another play from their playbook. They practice this mission in their personal and professional lives, as there is almost no line between them. Their mission is often about supporting those in need or who have been marginalized — those who are on the fringe, left out, ignored and forgotten — those on the outside looking in. Their work is about encouragement, positive behaviors, esteem, mentoring and empowerment. In many respects, they all follow the servant leadership role identified by Nelson Burns of Coleman Professional Services. That role is to “put the needs of others first to help people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Psychic Income
What do people get from living their mission? There is rarely any monetary compensation. Recipients rarely know who their benefactors are and the RLT subjects prefer it that way. Most would tell you they just love what they receive from doing what they love. Perhaps it originates with the familiar phrase that many believe: “It is better to give than receive.”

Humbly living your mission is about doing things without any expectation of return, incognito, behind the scenes, unconditional with no fanfare. No strings attached. This is often referred to as psychic income which is satisfaction derived from a job or undertaking separate from its financial gain. RLT subjects would tell you there is no way to spend psychic income. You can only save it.

When you get where you’re goin’, don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind.
-Tim McGraw, “Always Be Humble and Kind”

Mission in Action
The RLT alums represent people who tirelessly work for the betterment of their communities and those who live in them. All are examples of servant leadership. They are involved in many aspects of their communities but often focus on causes that are close to their hearts.

“With humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11)

We all love animals. Marilyn Sessions and Bill White put their love into action by supporting the Dog Days of Summer festival in Kent each August. Over $10,000 was raised in 2019 to support various groups involved with animal protection. Bill and his wife, Edie, even sponsor the Strut Your Mutt parade.

RLT subjects love the performing arts. Here are examples of how they share that love. Tom Fulton is preparing talented young artists for the theater. He founded and directs the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Academy where students gain exposure and preparation for theater careers. Rachel Brown shares her gift for music and songwriting with combat veterans. Joan Meggitt blends her talents in dance, music and singing with Parkinson’s Disease patients to improve their movement and social interaction. Al Flogge spent a lifetime dedicated to the arts and established a theatre/motion picture memorabilia collection at Kent State University. Kara Cea, an Akron University dance professor, helped start the Artsparks program which provides dance programs for school children in Northeast Ohio.

The communities of RLT alums Gwen Rosenberg, Marty Mordarski, Julie Messing and Linda Ferguson are better off because of their dedication. Linda raised and distributed thousands of dollars through the Portage Foundation to support a wide assortment of community needs. Gwen serves on Kent City council in addition to her community service. Julie enriches the lives of future entrepreneurs through her college mentoring leadership. Marty’s professional positions along his RLT develop and improve people and organizations throughout the region.

Many people in our communities struggle with mental health. Sad to say, the numbers are increasing. Joe Hendershott, George Miller, Ann Kent and Nelson Burns represent the legions of professionals devoted to improving the lives of those who are traumatized. George uses his gift to create art that inspires those who are afflicted and those who serve them. Joe and his family create professional resource materials to support those who work with traumatized youth. Coleman Professional Services has adult counseling covered with programs to support adults in need. Ann Kent leveraged her love and talent for music to counsel those in need via music therapy.

The RLT alums provide a standard for people to extend their talents to improve their communities. It is part of doing what they love.

About the Author

This resource is written by Dr. Patrick J. O’Connor emeritus professor of Career Technical Education at Kent State University. Dr. O’Connor is a charter member of the NDPC Research Fellows group. He has authored and co-authored numerous research resource papers for NDPC as well as Solutions webcasts. He has been a regular presenter at NDPC conferences for years. Dr. O’Connor welcomes comments, ideas, and feedback and can be reached at poconnor@kent.edu.