How finding out what you don’t want to do can be exactly what leads you to where you never knew you wanted to be
At 17 years old, many of us had big dreams and aspirations for our future. Some of us dreamt of being doctors and lawyers, others had their eyes set on Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and many had no idea where they wanted to be as long as they weren’t still living at home with their parents. Personally, I had my eyes set on The Walt Disney Company, with a dream of becoming an Imagineer, working on the creation of the magnificent rides and shows in their theme parks.
Like most other teenagers in high school, I hadn’t spent a day actually working in the career I was chasing after. I just knew that it seemed like a fun and fulfilling career that I dreamt of being a part of and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Following the advice of my parents and mentors, I chose a school that had alumni connections to the company, studied for a degree that would teach me the skills necessary for the job and make me stand out as an applicant, and meticulously constructed my professional network to include professionals who could refer and introduce me to the company after college. After years of hard work, a bachelor’s and master’s, and countless interviews, I can happily say I am not working my dream job with the Walt Disney Company. Wait, what?
Yes, you read that correctly, I am not working in my dream job. In fact, I landed my dream job right out of college, worked there for four years, and have since left. Leaving my dream job was the best career decision I have ever made.
Far too many people spend years chasing after a career they genuinely believe they will enjoy just to find out that it’s actually not what they expected. Typically it’s not the fault of the individual though, it’s the fault of the American education system and how it’s evolved into a big business that makes billions of dollars per year in forcing students to believe that they need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars that they don’t have to land a career that will likely never pay them back for it. Better yet, students are pressured to make these decisions as minors who have never worked professionally a day in their lives. But that’s not what this article is about, so I digress.
So what can students and young professionals do to find out if they will like the career they are aspiring for?
- Network with professionals who are already working in the line of business
- Shadow, volunteer, or intern in those businesses
- Seek a university whose curriculum includes a Co-Op where students spend a few terms of college working professionally
- Outline personal and professional goals and compare those goals with the day-to-day work requirements in the line of business to see if the lifestyle aligns with the career
- Research the history and proposed future of the line of business to see how it may continue to evolve throughout your career
Here’s my personal favorite plan though: Try it all and be prepared to fail
The only way you are going to find out if you actually like to do something or not is to try it yourself. You can have a dozen people tell you that something is a bad idea but if you don’t try it yourself you’re guaranteed to fail because you never even tried. Even if you think you may not like a certain job or working in a specific line of business, it just may lead you to a job you never even knew existed that you turn out enjoying and being amazing at.
When I started with the Walt Disney Company after college, I had already been working professionally in sports broadcasting for the better half of four years. I had worked my way up to multiple management positions including overseeing the opening of a professional sports arena and managing crews for concerts hosting tens of thousands of fans. The job that I was offered with Disney was a massive step down, my pay was cut over 55%, I went from being salary to hourly, and instead of holding a title as I had previously, I was now simply viewed as an employee ID number that was tied to a seniority date for scheduling and vacation purposes. Now I don’t want to come across as harsh, I have to admit I loved almost every second of my time at Disney. Being a part of a world-renowned entertainment company, delivering once-in-a-lifetime experiences to millions of guests per year, and meeting some of the best friends I’ll likely ever have made every sacrifice worth it. So what made me happy to leave this dream job?
During my time with Disney, I discovered exactly what I didn’t want to do with my career. I had spent years working towards a dream of a career where I would be working on rides and shows without thinking about what the day-to-day work actually entailed. Once I had the opportunity to be a part of that day-to-day I quickly realized it made me miserable to think about doing it for the rest of my life. This wasn’t a career failure though. My time with Disney was an enormous learning experience that not only taught me exactly what I didn’t want to do with my career, but it also helped me grow as a professional, made me realize what’s most important to me in terms of a work-life balance, and most importantly it introduced me to a career I never knew existed which led me to where I am today.
To all the students and young professionals out there feeling lost in the complexities of higher education and your early career, please don’t feel discouraged. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do right now. A career is a journey, and like most journeys, there will be highs and lows, wins and losses, strikes and gutters, but most importantly there will always be room for learning and growth. Proceed with an open mind, try it all, and be excited to fail. Every failure is just one step closer to a success.
—Brett N. Axler is a theater geek that found himself wanting more out of his career after growing up in performing arts. From performing on stage to directing and designing set and technical elements for musicals, Axler knew he had marketable skills that could take him further than eight shows a week on Broadway. After discovering his passion for nighttime spectaculars at Disney, Axler pursued his dreams of working for the mouse before finding out that his skills were far more lucrative in industries outside of entertainment. During his freshman year of college, and by total accident, Axler landed his first big gig with the NFL as a broadcast engineer for the Philadelphia Eagles, before being hired on to half a dozen other sports teams and media networks by his senior year of college. Axler’s whirlwind career continued as he was hired to lead the opening of a 280-million-dollar professional sports arena, produce more than 2 dozen shows throughout Philadelphia and New York, and was eventually pursued by his original dream employer Disney. Axler spent four years working for Disney Parks Live Entertainment in Orlando, Florida while freelancing as a technical director for corporate events around the country which led to his most recent endeavor as Technical Integration Lead at Google in Silicon Valley.
Axler is the Host and Producer of the Corporate Theater Geek Podcast. Each year, he speaks to dozens of college students and young professionals about their career goals and how they can use the power of education, hands-on experience, and professional networking to achieve their dreams. Axler finds nothing more rewarding than receiving a follow-up email from a student who just landed the job they once perceived as impossible to get.
A Theatre Geek’s Guide to Disney, Google, and the NFL: What it Takes to Land a Job with the World’s Most Sought-After Companies is available for pre-order in Trade Paperback at online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The eBook will be available July 6, 2021.