Mountains and Mouse Poop: Purposeful Career Decisions
Updated: Jan 1, 2020
About a year ago I made a weird career choice.
Two and a half years prior, I had landed my dream job as a professional dragon wrangler (a vet tech at an exotic animal hospital working with reptiles) at the age of 21, and I loved everything about it.
But as time went on, a new dream called to me. I discovered that I not only wanted to write just the one book, I wanted to write a bunch more and find more crazy awesome writer friends. That was more fun even than my first dream, and there were rumors that people could actually support themselves with a dream like that.
It became more and more apparent that this new dream was going to be a huge part of my life, and my full time dragon wrangling, while the coolest job ever, got more and more in the way of what I wanted my life to be.
So I took a different job...as a mouse wrangler.
Neil Gaiman said in his 2012 commencement speech that whenever he needed to make another career decision, he would follow this process. First, he would remember his ultimate goal, which was to be an author of fiction able to support himself through his words. He would imagine that this goal was a distant mountain.
He knew that as long as he kept going toward that mountain, he would be alright.
So he would look at that career decision and ask himself whether taking that job would be a step toward or away from the mountain. If it would move him closer to the goal, then he would take that step. If it wouldn’t, then he knew it wasn’t for him.
Even though moving from my dream job as an exotic animal veterinary technician was not the obvious decision, I chose it on purpose.
I chose to sweep floors and clean up after mice instead of caring for dragons and salamanders and tigers because it was a step toward my mountain, toward supporting myself with my words.
Looking back over the last year, I’ve had the best one yet. Even though I really miss my dragon wrangling team and I've been cleaning up a lot of mouse poop. This job allows me more control over my time and a decreased amount of mental stress so that I have more time and bandwidth to pursue my dream. As a result, I’ve been able to invest in my education as an entrepreneur in ways I never could have with a more glamorous job, and I am so, so grateful for that.
There are bad days where some people treat me poorly because I am in the lowest position in the department. People with bigger degrees leave extra work for me lying around because they are too fancy to do it themselves. When this happens, I always hope it will be a reminder to me to never treat people that way, even when I achieve a notable level of success one day.
Even now, looking back over the four years I've been writing and entrepreneuring every spare moment around full time jobs, I can see a little success already. I've found and grown the greatest community of friends I've ever known, which is perhaps my most treasured discovery through the process.
I've also written six books, two of which are published. I've learned how much I can push myself on a few hours' sleep and how to get by on less money so I could save for book production and public speaking courses and writing conferences and other things important to my dream and my future.
I tried some things that didn't work and enabled me to hone my focus more. And perhaps most importantly to date, I've learned about the immense value of failure and how much having the correct perspective about failure can positively affect my life and business.
One day, I'm going to look back and see how far I've come as my own business owner and enjoy knowing that I used to clean up mouse poop and sweep floors for a living, because it's going to be a very high contrast to what I'll be doing then.
I'm looking forward to reaching that point. But I'm also looking forward to the journey, during which I will still be trying new things, honing my focus further, and wrangling dragons on the side as much as possible.
What’s your dream? Has it changed over the years? What are you doing to chase after it? Tell me about it in the comments, or drop me an email at email@example.com.
Until next time, have fun making things happen!