Love What You Do: 9 Professionals Tell Us About the Path to Their Dream Jobs

Love What You Do: 9 Professionals Tell Us About the Path to Their Dream Jobs

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We’ve all heard the adage: “Do what you love.” But, well, easier said then done, right? It’s not like we can all be astronauts just because we love to eat that weird, freeze-dried ice cream, you know? But what is possible—even in this fraught job market that we all find ourselves in—is figuring out how best to follow your dream, whatever that may be. Perhaps your career won’t turn out exactly as you’d expect, and there will no doubt be challenges along the way, but if you remain true to what makes you feel happy and fulfilled, you can probably make any job feel something like a dream. Or, at least, this is what we learned from talking with the following nine people, all of whom work in wildly different fields, many of whom had no idea what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be when they embarked on their career path, but none of whom would trade what they’re doing now for anything else. Unless, that is, they got the chance to achieve rock god status. Because, really, who would turn that down?

Emily Mandel

 

Emily St. John Mandel; writer, Station Eleven (forthcoming, September 2014)

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a dancer. I studied ballet for my entire childhood— by thirteen or fourteen I was dancing five days a week—and then fell in love with contemporary dance and went to the School of Toronto Dance Theatre for my postsecondary education.

What was your path to being a writer?
A little convoluted, I suppose. I’d always read a lot, and had always written as a hobby, but I’d always been single-minded about making dance my career. But by the time I graduated from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, I was a little burnt out on dance. It was all I’d ever wanted to do, but something had changed and it wasn’t fun anymore. Being a dancer is very much like being a writer in that both professions usually require a day job to pay the rent, so I kept working my soul-killing retail jobs and just quietly started writing my first novel (Last Night in Montreal) during my off-hours. There was a slow transition where I went from thinking of myself as a dancer who sometimes wrote, then a writer who sometimes danced, then just a writer.

Do you like your job?
I love it.

What are the hardest parts?
The hardest thing is that there’s a constant stream of people who want something from me, and I do what I can but there aren’t enough hours in the day. My inbox is perpetually swamped by authors and publicists who want me to review their books. At a certain point I had to mostly stop replying, which I feel bad about, but I can either respond to emails all day or I can write novels.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
The work itself, the times when you’re completely caught up in the novel you’re writing and returning to it every day feels like coming home. Meeting people—especially independent booksellers, who are always passionate about books and really smart and an absolute pleasure to spend time with—and going to places where I might otherwise never have had the opportunity to go. I was invited to a literary festival in Australia once, for instance, and it was one of the great experiences of my life.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
Diplomacy, probably. I’ve always been interested in foreign affairs, in languages, and in travel. I think it would be interesting to work in an embassy or consulate abroad.

 

Rachel Winard of Soapwalla

Rachel Winard; founder of Soapwalla

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a classical violinist, and I was for many years. I still perform around NYC every once in awhile. Music is still a huge part of my life. There was a moment when I also wanted to be President of the United States *and* Supreme Court Justice *and* hairstylist, all at the same time. I was an ambitious 7 year old.

What was your path to owning your own business? 
Totally serendipitous. I started making skincare products for myself in 2002 out of sheer necessity. I have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune illness that can manifest itself in a number of ways. Like others who suffer from lupus, I get terrible skin rashes, hives, and irritated skin patches. When it was at its worst, I could barely use water on my skin without irritation.  I tried everything on the market I could find, without luck, and finally decided to start making my own products that were as healthy and wholesome as possible. The product line grew from there. After much gentle encouragement from friends and family to offer my products to the public, I premiered Soapwalla in November of 2009.

Do you like your job?
LOVE. I have to pinch myself on a daily basis that I get to do what I do. I cannot put into words how thankful I am.

What are the hardest parts?
Self-doubt. Solo ownership of a business means complete freedom, but with that freedom comes complete responsibility for outcomes. I’ve learned to listen to my gut above all else, and to take something away from each decision. Some of my most successful decisions have come out of complete, fall-on-my-face failures.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
Customer feedback. When I hear from a customer that for the first time since she can remember, she feels comfortable in her skin, or that he has gone off harsh prescriptions because he no longer needs them, it carries me for days.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
A candy-maker. I have a serious sweet tooth.

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Joe Pasqualetto; chef at Rucola

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up I always spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandfather was always in his workshop building or fixing something while my grandmother spent most of her time cooking in the kitchen or out in the garden. Every now and again the plectron would go off and my grandfather would race off to go fight a fire. Me, my grandmother, and a tray of baked ziti were right behind him. After the fire was out we would all meet at the firehouse for a big feast. So I guess the first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a firefighter.  I think that tray of baked ziti might of had something to do with it.

What was your path to being a chef?
I’ve always really enjoyed cooking. After school I found myself watching cooking shows instead of cartoons. Long before the food network we had PBS. Yan Can Cook. Julia Child. A few years later in life I came across a show call Great Chefs. This wasn’t a show teaching people how to cook at home, it was a show that featured chefs out in the industry around the world. When I was 16, I got my first cooking job, and I still, twenty years later, watch old episodes of Great Chefs on YouTube.

Do you like your job?
I love my job. 4 years ago, when I was working at GILT in the NY Palace hotel, I was looking to open a place in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to take the chef job at a restaurant that was already open. I wanted to create a place where young inspired cooks could create food without the fear of getting yelled at. 100% collaborative. 100% positive.

What are the hardest parts?
All of them. There is really nothing easy about running a restaurant.  I guess for me the hardest part is managing personalities. Every person that works in this kitchen has a different past and a different set of goals for the future. Making sure everyone is happy is my main objective. If you cook angry the food isn’t going to taste any good. I really believe that.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding aspect is watching people eat and enjoy the food. It takes so much time and effort to get that food on the plate.  From concept to sourcing to fabrication, there is so much room for error. Seeing someone take a bite, nod their head and smile makes it all worth it.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
I always thought it would be cool to design and build skyscrapers.

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Michael Walcher; bartender at Maison Première

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Once I realized Point Guard for the Portland Trailblazers wasn’t going to work out, I wanted to be pilot.

What was your path to being a bartender?
When I was 18 I knew that I wanted to eat and drink amazing things for the rest of my life. I figured I could make a lot of money so I could afford those things, or work in a place that gave me access to those things. Granted, most of my meals are still deli sandwiches eaten standing over a garbage can.

Do you like your job?
Of course. I would choose something easier if I didn’t.

What are the hardest parts?
Cleaning clogged mint out of sinks, being asked what my “real” job is, watching Tinder dates. The awkward hours were hard at first, but now I like it. And Monday afternoons off are the best.

What are the most rewarding aspects? 
I think we all have to love service to be in this job. We have a great bartending community in New York, it’s fun to meet up after work while the sun is coming out, have a diet coke or 3, and talk about how our nights went.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
Something else in the food and beverage industry. I worked in coffee for years and have never ruled out going back.

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Soraya Darabi; Co-founder of Zady

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A journalist. Namely, Diane Sawyer.  I had the opportunity to have lunch with her once and was too shy to tell her as much.What was your path to being an entrepreneur?I interned for Sony Music and the Washington Post in college, and through those jobs fell in love with digital… everything. Then I moved to New York to work for big media companies in digital marketing, before risking it all to jump into startup-land. I’ve never looked back, though those big media brands are still some of my favorite brands in the world.

Do you like your job?
I love my job and my job is who I am.  At Zady we believe in work-life integration.

What are the hardest parts?
Finding time to breathe, not taking work with you to sleep.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding aspect of co-building Zady is building a brand with a soul and a mission. We are proponents of the slow fashion revolution, a return to timeless style and an emphasis on process, quality and honesty.  It’s nice to work with people who share your same vision and mission too.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
I’d be a Zady intern, they have the coolest jobs in the world.

 Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss; Writer, Half-Life

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Depends when you’d have asked me. I wanted At 14 to be Jimi Hendrix.  At 16 I got more sensible and wanted to be Jimmy Page.

What was your path to being a writer?
I wrote a novel, or the first 20 pages of a novel, when i was 11. It was going to be about Frankenstein monsters–a reboot, a world war, a whole army of monsters. The General of the US (There was only one) got the American army into one giant room and had them vote: Uzis or m16s. “Uzis!”

It’s coming out next year from RandomHouse.

(A joke)

Do you like your job?
I like much of it, sure. I’m my own boss, etc.; I’m doing something creative, blah blah. But as Flaubert wrote, fiction is a slow patience. I’d like it to come faster.

What are the hardest parts?
The writing. That’s not me being facetious.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
Being done with the writing. Either is that.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
A Hendrix/Page hybrid.

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Giuliana Reitzfeld; 5th grade teacher at PS 10

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress and I did that successfully for ten years.

What was your path to being a teacher?
Once I had children I no longer felt a strong desire to act but I wanted a job that would put my creative energy to good use. I went back to college with no idea of what to pursue. I started assisting one day a week at an elementary school to fulfill a one credit deficit. And I LOVED it.

Do you like your job?
I love my job. I wake up every day excited to go to work. I am never bored and feel deeply rewarded every single day.

What is the hardest part?
The hardest parts of my job have nothing to do with teaching. The most difficult parts are dealing with the bureaucracy of it all. I have too much paper work that takes time away from planning and creating more vibrant lessons. I have over-crowded classrooms and, since I teach special ed, it is particularly tough. I think your next story should be about teacher attrition. It is a huge problem with some easy fixes.

What is the most rewarding aspect?
The most rewarding aspect is working with kids. The students are always amazing. Even when I get a “difficult” student, when I reach them it is the best feeling in the world.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
If the ‘business” of being a teacher does not drive me away (and there are days I can definitely see that happening), there is nothing I would rather do.

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Stephanie Middleberg; nutritionist, Middleberg Nutrition

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A professional tennis player. I was in awe of Steffi Graff. (I mean, we do share the same name!) But as I got older, I really had no clue. I was never that person who knew what they wanted to do in life. There was no plan. But looking back I have always gravitated towards health. I was a young athlete (a bit of a tomboy, really) and according to my pediatrician and parents always had a fascination with my doctor appointments (and I’m a bit of a hypochondriac). I was curious. Then as I got older I found myself reading Self magazine over Vogue.  The best advice I got growing up was do what most interests you.

What was your path to being a nutritionist?
This is a second career for me. I never intended to be a nutritionist, didn’t know any and hadn’t been to one, in fact I didn’t know it could be a career. My first job was in Healthcare Public Relations and soon came to the realization that I didn’t want my boss’ life. At the same time I developed some pretty bad stomach issues and my mom had major stomach surgery, so my interest in health only intensified.

So I literally opened up US News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools and landed on Berkeley for all the important reasons, beautiful weather, great people, something different… then I found its public health program and immediately felt that this is what I want to do. So I talked to a lot of people in various public health schools and settled on NYU because they had a joint RD/MPH program and was led by Marion Nestle (as close to a god in the field as you could get).  As the program progressed, I gravitated towards the more personal aspect of nutrition, helping people in a one-on-one setting, so I dropped the MPH part to focus on Clinical Nutrition.  I was extremely fortunate to land an internship at a private practice which firmly cemented by path. Whew that was a long one.

Do you like your job?
I love my job, I love the field and I know how fortunate I am to be able to say that.  It’s also a fantastic time to be in this world, people care about food again, not just dieting or staying thin, but what is in their food, the quality of it, where it comes from.  I also have a great team working with me that makes all the difference.  And I have fantastic clients, which makes my job easy. We laugh a lot in my office.

What are the hardest parts?
It’s a 24/7 job just keeping up with all the literature, the new products, the trends, etc.
Plus being accessible to all my clients. It’s hard to turn things off.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
Seeing my clients achieve their goals, whether it’s those last five pounds of post baby weight, completing a triathlon or learning to appreciate what they eat.  Food can spur all types of issues, and it can be a very sensitive topic, so being there with folks I’ve developed deep personal relationships with as they move in the right direction is extremely fulfilling.  I get to help people for a living.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
A dancer.  Although I’m not good, I am in awe of their grace, athleticism, poise, focus and a whole host of other positive adjectives.  I just love it.

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Abigail Besdin; Content Lead, Skillshare

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a philosophy professor. I thought of education as this great equalizer – it seemed like a core issue underlying a lot of other social issues that if tackled, would have a pretty massive domino effect on other broken systems. I just assumed teaching would be the most obvious way to get involved in that process.

In my angstier high school years I picked up a really old copy of James Rachels’ The Elements of Moral Philosophy that my dad had kept from Law School and I was hooked. In college I majored in Philosophy and concentrated in meta-ethics in NYU’s philosophy department, with the intention of pursuing a PhD – it was a really amazing experience.

What was your path to working at Skillshare?
Just after being accepted to a PhD program, I heard Scott Heiferman (CEO of Meetup) speak at a conference where he described this whole universe of bottom-up, totally decentralized communities that Meetup was powering globally. It struck me that what he was describing was the exact opposite of academia and how narrow my world felt. I decided immediately I wanted to work there – if for no other reason than to shock me back into my intended career path. I ended up deferring the PhD offer 2x before being kicked out. I spent about 2 years at Meetup working on a Brand Partnerships team before being introduced to the founder of Skillshare. He was looking to start up a brand partnerships team and I jumped at the opportunity. Skillshare’s vision for what education access could look like had me at hello and I’ve been here since end of 2011.

Do you like your job?
I love my job. I love it mostly because it’s a totally made up job at company that’s making up how the world should look, and just gunning for it. I feel really lucky that such a wind-y path brought me here.

What are the hardest parts?
The hardest part is the flip side of why I love the job – you’re making everything up from scratch so there’s no protocol or playbook to reference. For a long time and particularly in the early days, every team member feels like the success of the organization sits on their shoulders, and they’re not really wrong about that.

What are the most rewarding aspects?
The most rewarding aspect is actually seeing some of our crazy ideas come to life in a very real way. We can think through what the future of learning could look like, build a class to test it, and have someone halfway around the world point to how the experience changed their life.

The other most rewarding aspect is working with a team of people attracted to the same vision that you are. You wind up in a really passionate, politics-free environment where you can get more shit done than you’d ever imagine.

If you could be anything else, what would it be?
I don’t have a good answer to what else I’d want to be doing. I feel connected to the mission and I’m pretty addicted to the frenetic pace at Skillshare and the level of impact we try to have on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. The risks associated with working at a venture-backed startup are pretty addictive, too. I’m not sure where else the combination of all these things exists. My dad (the lawyer) once took one of those tests that tells you what career you’d be happiest in and he got forrest ranger. I think about that a lot, but I don’t know a test like that would come up with something too far off from what I’m doing now.



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