When I was about 21 years old I was a painter in Pennsylvania. I was painting a house one day when the homeowner came outside and started talking to me and my coworkers as homeowners often do. The man led an interesting life. He volunteered his time rescuing stray animals, mostly cats, he worked in construction, and on the weekends, he performed in a KISS tribute band in which he breathed fire on stage. He wasn’t an old man – no more than 45 – and he seemed like he lived a very full and interesting life. He did something different everyday. Some things he had to do – like show up for his construction job (I believe he was self-employed) – but others he wanted to do, such as save cats and breathe fire while dressed like Gene Simmons. I remember saying to my boss who was somewhat of a mentor to me, “I want to do what he does.” My boss looked at me with a puzzled look. “You want to be in a KISS tribute band?!” He didn’t understand what I meant.
In the 15 years since I graduated high school I’ve held many jobs. Following my job (and almost career) as a house painter, I decided to move to Park City, Utah and become a snowboard instructor. During my stint in the beehive state, I worked as a rock climbing guide, a trampoline and gymnastics coach, a facilities manager, a personal assistant, a painter (again), a furniture designer, an IT specialist, a security guard at Sundance Film Festival, and filled in the gaps as a self-employed everything-man. I volunteered at an elementary school, brought people to speak to local drug rehab centers, and taught English. I made a very productive, although not always financially rewarding life for myself. When people would ask me what my long-term plan was, I’d tell them it was to have many short-term plans. I never wanted to get stuck in one thing. I always needed an escape plan just in case I got too comfortable, too bored, or both. My goal was to always have options, and I would fulfill this goal with a lifetime of diverse experience.
I started going to college when I was 28 years old during a low point in my life. I felt I’d run out of options, and therefore, might as well take a class. One class turned into two, then three; before I knew it I was a full-time college student. Many times I felt a bit of shame and embarrassment being that I was the oldest person in my classes, but I fought through it by showing that I was the most dedicated. I approached college with the same meandering attitude as I approached the rest of my life. Each semester I’d take whichever classes I thought seemed interesting with no particular goal in mind except to fulfill general requirements. This (and a long-distance girlfriend in New York City) eventually led me to the east coast to finish my degree. In order to supplement my income while in college, I took a job at one of my favorite retailers, REI. I had zero retail experience, but I was hired based on the time I spent out west. By this point I knew that I wanted to be in business and what better way to learn than on a retail sales floor in Manhattan while attending business school. I think that one day I may have a… dare I say… career in the industry I love. I am still connecting the dots, but starting to see the big picture clearer each day.
Today I am a 33 year-old recent college graduate successfully leveraging the years of experience I built by following a path of whatever intrigued me. I know that this isn’t the life for everyone. Some people don’t like surprises. They need to know what they will be doing everyday for years to come. Each person’s life course is as unique as her or his fingerprint. The one thing I do know is that if I had said I’m going to be an accountant or a web developer or a photographer straight out of high school, I would have deprived myself of 15 years of amazing experiences which turned out to be richer and more formative as any college course. I haven’t found my passion, I’ve found many passions. That is the reward I received from putting off going to college.
That man whose house we painted wasn’t rich by any means, but I know he was happy. As it turns out, so am I.