How to Find Your Passion and Make it Your Job: Emma Rosen (Transcript)

Full text of author Emma Rosen’s talk: How to Find Your Passion and Make it Your Job at TEDxYouthManchester conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Emma Rosen – Author and career change expert

Hello. So I want to start by asking you to raise your hands if you know exactly what it is you want to do, when you leave education. I can see about six hands.

Okay. Now I want you to raise your hand, if you have a few more general ideas or actually you have no idea at all. Okay. That’s the vast majority of you.

So not that long ago at all I was sitting where you are today. And I had no idea either. I had no idea when I was at school, when I was at college, then at university. And when I finally entered the workplace in my early twenties, I didn’t know then either.

And what I want to do today is tell you a little bit about what I did about that problem.

So to set the scene, I want you to come with me to a wintery Monday morning in November 3 years ago, it’s 6:35 AM and it’s cold out, it’s dark, it’s raining, basically like this morning and I hadn’t slept all night.

All night I was kept awake by the thought of having to go to work the next day. I had a tight knot of stress in my chest, and it had prevented me from sleeping all night long from worry.

And so eventually my alarm went off. I had to get up and had to go and face the day ahead at work. And what I had was a really bad case of the Sunday night blues.

So I had quite a good job. I was working on a corporate graduate scheme that I’d worked really, really hard to get onto. My parents were really proud of me; was earning a good salary. I had job security, job stability. I was using all the skills that I’d learned at university and I had a clear path of progression.

I ticked all the boxes, I had won the career lottery, but yet every day when I woke up, I dreaded going to work. Absolutely dreaded the idea.

And it took me a whole another year to figure out that actually what had been my dream job that had ticked all of my boxes it turns out that it was not for me. And that was okay.

So that begs the question: What on earth is for me? I had no idea. I was back to square one. So in a fit of despair, one night, I wrote down a list of all the different careers I had ever wanted to try… everything from when you’re asked as a small child, what you want to be when you grow up and you say astronaut or firefighter, Prime Minister.

So my list had 25 jobs on it. And they ranged from really traditional, sensible professions to slightly more unusual, but still fairly mainstream ones.

Then the third category seemed completely random. There were things that I’ve been told weren’t real jobs at all, but they all have one thing in common: all of them were things that I’d secretly dreamed of doing my entire life, but for one reason or another had never had the opportunity to fully explore them.

But in my mid-twenties, I was still curious about them.

Now I sat back on the couch. I started daydreaming trying to picture Emma the Author, Emma the Explorer, Emma the Archeologist, and there were so many different possible selves to choose from. And each one was totally unrecognizable from my current reality.

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That day, sitting on that couch, I decided that I was going to try every single one on that list in a year before my 25th birthday. And I was just about to turn 24. So that worked out as roughly one every two weeks.

I was going to quit my job and take a radical sabbatical. So I handed in my notice at work, which was both the most terrifying and the most liberating day of my life. And I set about trying all these different jobs and they ranged from wedding photography, publishing, to being an actor in a movie.

Then there was teaching, tour guiding and interior design. After that, there was working in the police dogs unit. There was landscape gardening and blogging. And just as I’d always dreamed, there were adventures by exploring in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It was travel writing in Venezuela and archeology in Transylvania of all places.

So what I want to do now is tell you a little bit about what I learned doing all of these jobs and the three most important things that I learned from doing so many jobs in so many different industries.

So the first thing is about starting your career search, not by thinking about jobs, but by thinking about who you are as a person.

So set jobs aside for a minute and see how you’d answer these three questions. When I did this, I went back to my list of 25 and I changed some of them.

So first up is, what skills do you want to be using? And what skills are you good at? And they are not necessarily the same thing, but what you need to do is try and find the crossover about where they are.

So this could be things like teamwork or leadership, could be analyzing data, problem solving or writing.

Second question is what do you want to get out of the workplace? And all too often, we think about how we fit into a job or a career type. We don’t consider how well it suits us. So this could be something like making a difference, having a positive impact on society, or it could be variety not wanting to do the same thing month in month out. Or perhaps it’s autonomy you being in control of your workload.

Third thing to think about is working environment. This is something that’s very often overlooked and actually it can make a substantial difference to your happiness at work on a day-to-day basis. So do you want to be a power dresser going into a slick city office, or maybe you like the idea of doing something practical, outdoors, or using your hands?

Do you want to be working for a large international company that will send you around the world? Or do you like the idea of starting your own business as an entrepreneur with your two best mates in your garden shed? Use your answers to these questions to objectively assess how well different sorts of jobs suit you.

So the second thing I want to talk to you about is the sheer importance of getting multiple work experience placements in a diverse range of careers.

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So I think careers should be like dating. Very few of us end up marrying the first person that we kiss or the first person we go on a date with, but with our careers, that’s exactly what we do. We marry our first career.

And what I think we should be doing is dating around. We need to date a few more careers because doing so allows you to make career decisions based on knowledge and experience rather than based on assumption, hearsay or perhaps expectation.

And I think this point about assumption is really, really important. And it’s something that I learned a lot more about doing so many different jobs.

There’s one job in particular, that showed that, and bizarrely that was alpaca farming. So this job I got through Twitter of all things. Sent out a tweet said, I quite like to try farming, don’t know any farmers, but in 10 minutes an alpaca farmer from Cornwall got in touch and said, come and work for me.

So, okay, sure, why not?

It was September; it was still quite warm out. I was hoping to go down, maybe get a bit of a tan at the same time. And we spoke on the phone and she said, absolutely not, you need to come in January because if you like farming in January, when the weather is miserable, you’re meant to be a farmer. It was such good logic that I couldn’t disagree with her.

So a few months later, January rolled round, got in my car and I drove down to Cornwall. My phone signal did that. So there was a little X at the bottom of my phone and arrived in the middle of the night. And the first thing I did was step into a puddle and wonder what on earth I was doing with my life.

Woke up the next morning though and the hillside was covered in a glittering frost. I put on about seven jumpers and went outside and I did all the things that I’d always thought I would do farming. So feeding animals, animal husbandry, helping to use with lambing; it was fantastic.

But then it got to lunchtime and sat down with a farmer. She turned to me and said that’s less than half of what I do because to be a sustainable farmer in the 21st century, I have to be an entrepreneur as well. I have to actually make a living, selling the produce from my farm.

And she had multiple lines of business. But the one that she told me about and that I worked on while I was, she took her alpacas. She sheared them, she got the wool spun into yarn. Then the yarn was made into high-end luxury children’s wear that she sold to Harrods.

And she managed every single step in that process, from helping an alpaca give birth to negotiating with Harrods. Imagine all the different steps in that process on top of the regular jobs of being a farmer.

And what this showed was how many business acumen skills you needed as well as combining with a practical outdoor job. And it showed how completely wrong I’d been about this career. I was so wrong about it and I would never have known if I hadn’t had gone and seen for myself if I hadn’t learned by doing.

So the last thing I want to talk to you about today is about what happened after I tried all those different jobs, because I love more than one of them. I loved quite a lot of them. And this left me with a new, the problem, how to choose.

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I realized that all my life, I’ve been trying really hard to be a high achiever, but it turns out that’s not what I was. What I was with a wide achiever. What I also realized was that maybe I didn’t need to just choose one, but maybe don’t apply that to the dating analogy.

Growing up, I’d always assumed you can only do one job, but what doing so many different jobs showed me, was that in fact, this isn’t necessarily the case at all. In fact, this is a flawed assumption.

What I could have was a portfolio career, and this is the concept of having multiple jobs at the same time in either the same or in different industries and doing so by part-time, freelance or contract work.

I could take the skills that I was best at and that I enjoyed most. And I could specialize in those rather than industry specific knowledge. I could take my skills and instead of applying them vertically in one industry, I could apply them horizontally in many.

So if we fast forward a year, I’m now 26. And I finished my project just over a year ago. I chose to specialize in communications, both in terms of written and verbal through speaking.

And over the past year and a bit, I have officially had seven jobs. And I see that as something to be proud of, not something to hide.

I think a portfolio career can show opportunity in what is traditionally seen as fickleness or indecision, because instead it can show traits like flexibility, adaptability, resilience, the ability to learn quickly, given that 65% of the jobs that you will do don’t even exist yet.

And that our careers are likely to span well into our mid-seventies as ultra-marathons. And that we will have over five career changes, not job changes, career changes each. I think these are pretty useful skills to have.

But ultimately I think it’s about happiness. Figuring out what job or jobs you want to do and getting the experience to see if they are right for you.

Happy people have been proven to earn more, both for themselves and for their companies or organizations and to work harder. So it’s in everyone’s interest that you love what you do, both yours, your friends, your families, the people you work with and the people you work for.

We often hear throwaway statements like follow your passions or achieve your potential. But what I hope this talk has done is given you some insight as to how you can practically go away and figure those things out.

Because these days, every day I wake up and look forward to the day ahead. And I don’t think that I should be the outlier. I think that should be the norm. Your norm.

Thank you.

Resources for Further Reading:

Angela Duckworth: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Benjamin Todd: To Find Work You Love, Don’t Follow Your Passion at TEDxYouth@Tallinn (Transcript)

Eugene Hennie: How to Find Your Passion and Inner Awesomenes at TEDxMMU (Transcript)

Stop Searching For Your Passion by Terri Trespicio (Full Transcript)

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