Your Dream Career! Or Not
Here’s something for you to daydream about: what if you had been given a substantial chunk of money when you were 19 years old, and then were told to go follow your dreams? How would that have changed your life? That’s just what happened to Peter Buffet, son of super-legendary billionaire investor Warren Buffet, as told in his forthcoming book, "Life is What You Make It." Peter received a $90,000 inheritance when he was a student at Stanford University in the late 70’s. That equates to about $287,000 in today's dollars if you factor in inflation over time. This little windfall was (to use an oft-quoted tenet of Warren Buffet when giving advice to wealthy parents), "enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing." It was a head start, but not enough to throw him into a life-long state of carefree oblivion. Wouldn’t that have been nice? Or would it have gone to waste? Stanford is not too shabby of a place for launching your career. However, Peter’s true interest was in composing music. He knew that the ninety grand was not enough money to avoid the inevitability of finding a job in the future, but it was enough to buy something else that Stanford couldn’t offer: time. So Peter rolled the dice. He quit Stanford, moved to San Francisco, and got on a strict budget while pursuing his dream - to get a job in music. After a period of false starts and experimentation, a chance encounter led to his first break at a fledgling cable outfit that eventually became MTV. Not a bad place to get a start. One thing led to another, and now he is an Emmy-award winning musician, composer and producer. "If I’d faced the necessity of making a living from day one, I would not have been able to follow the path I chose," he writes in a Business Week article. This statement is somewhat alarming, since most of us actually do face the necessity of making a living sooner or later, regardless of our creative passions and interests. It's just that some of us are more practical about it than others, I guess. As for me at age 19, I had a burning desire to write and publish Christian songs. I was pretty good at it, too. But those wishes were consistently swept aside in favor of a safer, traditional approach to adult life: graduate from college; get useful work experience, a graduate degree, a paying job, marriage, kids, a house, a promotion...Well, you get the picture. I lost interest in songwriting a long time ago. But then there are those brave souls who throw caution to the wind and boldly pursue their creative passions, making a living along the way however they can. They move to L.A. They go to endless auditions. They set up a studio. They keep pitching their manuscript. And for some, the persistence pays off. Unfortunately, the path of many a creative artist does not always pan out as neatly as Peter Buffet’s. Many run in to dead ends and years of frustration. Would the luxury of buying a little more time really make that much of a difference to one’s career path? We all know of people who boldly pursued their artistic dreams only to crash and burn years later because of, well, all sorts of problems: bad luck, missed breaks, or the tortuous state of having an artistic passion but not enough talent to back it up. And who wants to end up as a broke and divorced washed up fifty-something living in a shabby apartment with a couple of scruffy cats, still talking about "making it" one day? As talented as he may have been, I wonder if Peter’s financial head start could have just as easily led him nowhere. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Outliers," makes the point that very few are propelled to success simply based on talent and genius. Success often comes down to nothing more than random luck. What if Peter had missed that "chance encounter" which led him to his big break at MTV? Chances are the money would have run out and he would have eventually headed back to Stanford to take a more traditional career path. In that case he would have had to settle for the satisfaction of enjoying music composition as a hobby. Life is full of trade-offs. Obligation and desire; choice and luck. These are the things that hammer out our destiny over time, and there are no guarantees that any of us get what we think we really want. The seemingly random and circuitous paths we take can lead to a life of fulfillment and contentment, or to a sad state of underachievement, missed opportunities and regret. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. I am not sure if a $90,000 head-start would make a whit of difference in the end. Really, I have no idea how it all works together, or how God fits into it. But one thing I do know: I’m almost fifty now, and I sure am enjoying this writing hobby.