If you have ever been to the dog track, you have witnessed a pack of lanky dogs rabidly chase a feeble metal rabbit.
What you have probably not experienced, though, is what happens when the rabbit breaks.
Every dog owner fears mechanical failure. These owners go so far as to buy an insurance rider, known as "catching the rabbit." It is a policy that exists for the unfortunate circumstance when the rabbit stops working mid-race. Insurance pays out as if the dog had died, because for racing purposes it has.
That dog will never run again. Unfortunately, many people manage their careers this same way.
In our industry, we work 60- to 80-hour work weeks, have a BlackBerry tied to our hip 24 hours a day, and struggle to take a two-week vacation. We are told to tolerate the process in exchange for the promise of a glorious ending.
I can't help but wonder: How many of us are chasing the rabbit? How many of us are sitting in jobs without an end goal? How many of us will catch the rabbit only to figure out it wasn't that exciting after all?
"Mr. Holland's Opus" was cute for 90 minutes, but very few of us actually want to be staring down the barrel of a 30-year career, and find ourselves stuck in some "temporary" job. I went through my entire childhood without ever hearing a kid say that he wanted to grow up to be an Account Coordinator.
To poorly paraphrase the great poet Robert Strauss, "A job is like making love to a gorilla. You don't stop when you're tired; you stop when the gorilla is tired."
A similarly prolific thinker, Drew Carey, once said, "You hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."
The combination of a disappointing job market and the media's celebration of the entrepreneur, has caused nearly everyone to want to start a business. When I ask interviewees what their long-term career goals are, more than 75% want to own their own business. I have gotten thousands of emails from aspiring entrepreneurs asking how to start businesses in everything from waste disposal to cupcakes.
In publishing, the barriers to hanging a shingle are so low that the temptation is even greater. If you are contemplating starting a business or a career change, here are five ways to avoid chasing the rabbit:
1.The one-sentence rule: The best businesses, like the best life goals, are those with simple, easy-to-understand visions. Comedian Lewis Black said it best, ""You don't want another Enron? Here's your law: If a company, can't explain, IN ONE SENTENCE, what it does... it's illegal." How many of you can explain your career goal in one sentence? How many can describe your company in one sentence that resonates with customers?
2. Not everyone needs to run something: Unfortunately, business magazines have gone overboard glamorizing the role of the entrepreneur. As a six-time founder, I can tell you that real-life start-ups are not nearly as glossy as you would think. Ignore the myths of setting your own schedule, and being your own boss. These are just oft-repeated fables. The reality is that your boss becomes a multi-headed monster made up of customers, partners, employees, investors, and a board of directors, each placing competing demands on you.
3. Job titles are meaningless: I have sat through too many performance appraisals where employees were motivated by job title. Your job title is completely meaningless, especially at a start-up. Get over it.
4. Travel more: It is amazing the excuses people find to not prioritize travel. I have a friend who spent two years traveling the world at a total cost of less than $15,000. There is no better education you are going to get than exploring other cultures. In this economy, wouldn't you rather be hunting for ancient ruins than job hunting?
5. Learn how to play the violin. Famed business professor Peter Drucker was once asked by one of his students how to become better in business. His response? "Learn how to play the violin." I started doing documentary and travel photography two years ago, and it has made a tremendous impact on my creativity, and approach.
How do you avoid chasing the rabbit? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.
This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. Thank you very much!
Great article, David. ROTFLMAO at the Drew Carey quote, but the Peter Drucker closing was the best advice I've read in a very long time! Way to go!
I wonder how many people today would be entrepreneurs if the economy hadn't tanked? Something tells me that these folks (of which I know many) would have eventually begun his/her own business venture. I don't see the decision to take on entrepreneurship as something people decide lightly. So for me that begs the question: Was the economy just the right push to get them to react? Speaking to the people I know, the answer is a resounding "yes."
Your article is a great (surprise) gift! Our job pays for our life - not the other way around.
Shelly Palmer has said that sometimes people have the wrong dream. Really, how many national broadcaster positions will they ever be? So when the gorilla dies and there are no more gorillas, you may find chasing the rabbit means the emperor has no clothes. Ug. You are right, not everyone needs to own a business. If 75% could own a business who would be the support staff? And although you may think no one wants to grow up to be an account coordinator, not only would you surprised that maybe some people do but that position may be perfect or necessary depending upon each individual's life situation. Job titles are important when applying for another job and for identification in the pecking order. Otherwise.... Yes, we need plan B's too.
David, this article was excellent! You have a very rich/colorful background, beautiful photos BTW! My "learn to play the violin" is the knitting I do which made me start my etsy.com business & learn so much more about twitter/social media marketing. You should think of selling your prints on etsy for exposure :)
Brilliant! We all need this reality check!
I enjoyed this article very much. I quit chasing the rabbit less than a year ago. I spent those grueling hours working to produce what the salesmen would easily promise and finally realized my passion wasn't fun anymore. I watched them laugh and buy Range Rovers while I was exhausted and burnt out. I decided to start a fun online site for creatives called UselessAdvertising.com for those that just love the business but don't want the suits and took on a management job in F&B to pay the bills. I even managed to have a couple clients call me for media advice and talk to marketing students on careers so it turned out to be alot more fun without all the chasing!
Thanks for the confirmation. I love the humor in it.
This was a fantastic article. Kudos on a job well done. Loved the analogies, loved the quotes, loved the theme. Brilliant. This will get Twittered and Facebooked all over college campuses.
@Julie, thanks so much! I consider my photography to be very much a work in progress, but I really love the process.
I haven't really found time to more actively sell my prints, as the companies we own have me running flat out, but that is great advice.
Great article. I was just discussing this point of view the other day. The "chasing the rabbit" idea also coincides with the rat race idea. Here's a short story that I believe compliments your ideas and views on our life purpose
An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."
The tourist then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"
The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."
The tourist then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."
The tourist scoffed, " I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
The tourist replied, "15 to 20 years."
"But what then?" asked the Mexican.
The tourist laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."
The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
Very good article and love the pics.
I have to tell you that I subscribe to a lot of information and this was one of the most gut checking articles I've read in quite some time. Funny yet true. I've taken your advice to heart...thank you.
absolutely brilliant. Thank you for this, I loved reading it and could not agree with it more. Hint, this all becomes much more poignant and clear after one turns 40. Sometimes a mid-life crisis is a great anecdote for chasing the rabbit.
Outstanding article David, thank you. The comments were also terrific.
Great post , very timely,
So many people jumping in with little of any fact based expectations.
So much so I wrote an E Book; the 50 ugly truths of starting your own business. You can download a copy for free at www.nosmokeandmirrors.com .
I wrote it because it breaks my heart when I get the call...you know the one; "I have used up my 401k, my friends and family money...taken a 2nd on our home and I need your help creating what you call “sales velocity"…
In most cases these entrepreneurs had an unrealistic expectation. Having launched a number of businesses I hope the EBook lets them know ( before they spend their children’s college fund) what they are getting into.
If you chose to take the plunge after reading my eBook do me one more favor, answer this question for me;
What problem does your new product or service solve for your buyers? If you can't answer this, stop spending until you can!
Mark Allen Roberts
So I shouldn't go out and "Crush It"?