On a Wing and a Prayer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, no doubt you have seen a reality television show or two in that time. Odds are high that you’ve watched quite a few singing shows – Popstars, American Idol, X Factor and more recently, The Voice. They are full of hopeful young (and a few old) people trying to “live their dreams” and be one of the rare few that finishes up with a recording contract. Some sound fantastic and have a good idea of where their abilities lie, others are clueless and just waiting to be humiliated.

And there is always one that inevitably makes me cringe when the judges ask “what’s your plan?”

“I don’t have a plan. I just know I love singing. I quit my job to come on the show and this is it”

No doubt the producers (and a decent portion of viewers) think this is a really romantic notion, a contestant throwing everything into chasing their dreams. I have a different word for it: idiocy. This goes for anyone in any industry that quits their job on a dime and tries to go into something completely new because they are following some dream. See, plenty of people are so caught up in the notion of following some nebulous dream that it seems courageous to just throw everything away to give something else a shot. Tell me this – do you think it courageous and romantic to bet your life savings on a single number in roulette?

I didn’t think so.

Reality singing shows are a perfect microcosm for a disease that has pervaded Western society – the idealistic notion of a “sea change”. Throwing away all the experience, achievement and knowledge (or to use Cal Newport’s term, career capital) you’ve accumulated and pursuing something where you have none of that. Just how do you think it’s going to go? In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport tells the real story of a woman who had a highly paid job with a lot of influence, who thought she’d much rather teach yoga. She quit her job, took a month long yoga course and started teaching classes. Everything went ok for a while and then the economy tanked. Her work dried up and she ended up on food stamps. No, this story is not exaggerated.

This is what happens when people make utterly stupid career choices. Becoming an executive takes decades, and the experience and knowledge is highly sought after. A yoga teacher that took a month long course, well they’re everywhere. So it doesn’t really make sense to make such a change does it? Going back to the reality tv experience, can you imagine quitting a job, any job, on the off chance you are going to make it in the music industry, which chews up (and in most cases doesn’t even bother with chewing) and spits out millions of people a year?

The take home message? If you’re unhappy in your job, or want to start a totally new career, never quit your current job. To make a move takes time and preparation, and most importantly accrual of skills, knowledge and experience that will actually get you a job in that new field. Leaving a job on a whim, especially in this economy, is the most stupid and shortsighted thing you can do.

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