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Whoever Came to Career Day

I'm a curious little punk. Just ask my friends.

And among the dozens of questions I ask every day, here's one I shoot at nearly everyone I meet:

"What do you want to do when you grow up?"

Their reactions make my day. Most people are shocked that I would ask such a "childish" question. Recently, I asked a guy in his upper-50s, and he replied: "You know, no one has asked me that in probably 40 years."

The sad thing is that people hesitate to answer. Most people know at least one thing they really want to do when they grow up. But they hold the answer deep down inside themselves, and when asked to cough it up (or spit it out, take your pick), they choke up because they're not comfortable disclosing their dreams. Maybe I'll think their dream is silly. Maybe I'll think their dream is impossible.

The sadder thing is when people have no answer at all. And you can tell. They're empty because they haven't allowed themselves to dream for so long.

And the saddest thing is when I see that sadder thing happen with young people. I just want to scream, "You're not old enough to have become totally devoid of dreams!"

No matter what the situation, most people can at least answer this question (mostly because when we were little kids, we were asked the question all the time): "When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Of course, the answers are all over the map -- and they should be. I also hear all the classics: professional football player, fireman, astronaut, doctor, etc.

But I heard the smartest, if not best, answer just recently, from my friend Nick, who's in the 14th grade.

When he was little, what did he want to be when he grew up? "It changed from year to year. Whoever came to Career Day, because they showed me it was within my reach."

When we're growing up, maybe we are at the mercy of our influences. But now that we can think for ourselves, maybe we can use this insight to our advantage. If we have a hunch about what we want to do when we grow up, but we're a bit hesitant to go after it with all our heart, maybe we should just seek more examples of those who've taken similar paths before us -- and show ourselves it's within our reach. And if we have friends who are struggling the same, maybe we should provide them with more examples of their predecessors.

Remember who Nick wanted to be when he grew up: just whoever came to Career Day.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 23 April 2005 Permalink

Just Short of Having Your Name In Lights!


One of my colleagues is a filmmaker and his first feature (he was co-producer) plays in the Tribeca Film Festival tonight!

The story of how he came to be a filmmaker is much more inspirational than he lets on, so I'll follow suit and just give you the brief rundown.

- Attended University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studies Physics and Electrical Engineering, runs cross-country and track (all that's like three full-time jobs if you add it all up)
- Worked in Chicago for a year as an analyst for Ernst & Young consulting
- Moved to Boston, co-founded a company, worked on that and then for another company for a few years
- Figured out what he really wanted to do -- tell stories through film that moved people to be better than they are -- and moved to New York to learn how

That was a few years ago. A lot of long hours, a few short films in the books, in and out of a little debt to finance his dreams (what guts!), and here he is today, telling me his first feature is playing tonight in a bigtime film festival.

Perhaps the most telling sign of how cool all of this is...I looked up the film, Red Doors, on imdb.com and it had the movie poster in the picture gallery. And, sure enough, his name is spelled out in the lower-left corner of the poster in those funky, super-skinny (appropriate for Hollywood, I suppose), super-tall letters "co-producer JOHN FIORELLI."

Click here to see the movie poster.

Click here to see John's website.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 22 April 2005 Permalink

Make Your Own Fortune

If 15 minutes of fame is what you're going for, you don't have to do something complicated, just remarkable.

"For the past three years, Yang has been writing dozens of fortunes each week between classes at San Jose State University. She also continues to copy-edit the lists of fortunes that arrive at their two-garage facility just south of town."

That's from the USA Today (as is the picture). Read the article here.

Maybe it's not what Lisa wants to do when she grows up (she's currently a 23-year-old student at San Jose State), but it's pretty cool for now. And something this remarkable will only help her get the next gig she wants -- whatever that might be.

If you're not sure what you really want to do, what are you doing until you figure that out? Whatever it is, make it fun, make it cool. Life's too short to do stuff that sucks.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 15 April 2005 Permalink

What could people do if they didn't know they "can't"?

My friend Chris attended a sort of personal development seminar for four days last summer. It was the "platinum" version, which meant most of the participants were extraordinarily successful and, usually, fantastically wealthy. There were celebrity actors, doctors whose patients are celebrities, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even a guy who retired recently at the ripe old age of 27 after building a real estate empire. (Hint: The only non-Bentley/Lexus/Mercedes-type car in the parking lot at the hotel resort was my friend's rental car he got at the airport.)

When I talked with Chris after the program, he told me what I
expected: he thought the course was very good, he had learned a lot about himself, and he enjoyed meeting so many interesting people. And, of course, he told me the funny story of how when everyone was departing, the parking attendant said Whose Chevy Malibu?, and everyone, dumbfounded, gawked around for the driver.

But he also said he noticed one thing that really stuck with him.

"It seems like all these people I meet who started companies or became movie stars or whatever, and made a ton of money doing it were able to do it because they simply did it before they figured out they weren't supposed to be able to do it."

Sad. But true, it seems.

When, exactly, do we convince people that they can't achieve extraordinary things? It's hard to pin it on a milestone event common to many people's lives like the 18th Birthday or College Graduation (though those milestones certainly are accompanied by plenty of "wisdom" from family members).

But you can be sure we do it when our friends (or, in most cases, our children and nieces and nephews) finally have the guts to start talking about what they really want to do more than anything else -- more than working for the big company in their hometown and more than going to law school where their fathers went -- and we say what we've been trained to say, something like

- Be realistic. (Why? Because we're overdosing on fantasy all the time?)

- Don't put all your eggs in one basket. (This, coming from a person who talks like each of us only has one egg?)

- It will take too much time/money/work. (Maybe it's too much for the average apathetic Joe, but what about your friend who wants to throw her commute, cash, and calluses at it?)

- I'd choose the safe move. (You would? That's nice. But she's not you, so what's she to do.)

- You have to write a business plan first. (Really? Tell that to the 60% of founding CEOs of Inc. 500 companies who didn't. I know this stat and article are from 2002, but it doesn't change much year to year.)

- No one has done that before. (Well, duh. That's what makes it cool.)

Next time your friends work up the guts to share their dreams with you, feel free to tell them how to make it better. But don't tell them that it won't work. There are already too many times when they risk being convinced that they're not supposed to be able to do it. Maybe if they never figure it out, they'll never figure it out.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 13 April 2005 Permalink

Prologue: Procrastination

I have a confession to make.

I first decided to start a blog in October 2003. Long time ago, I know. Eighteen months have passed, each day ending like the day before – me going to sleep thinking “Yeah, I should really start my blog tomorrow.” Here's a quick recap of my blog's turtley timeline.

November 2003: I signed up for a Typepad account. Paid $5/month for nothing. Guess I justified it by thinking I was locking up my domain name so no one else could take it. That was a ridiculous waste of money -- how many Ian Ybarras are there? And how many other blogging setups (Blogger, for starters) could I use if someone took ianybarra.typepad.com.

July 2004: Visited one of my heroes, Seth Godin, and talked about my aspiration to be a speaker and author when I grow up. One of his suggestions was to start a blog and write enough real and "unsafe" stuff to start attracting an audience. He warned that it would take a lot of work. I said I was glad to be on the right track with the idea and that I would start soon. And I did. Sort of.

August 2004: The plan was to post some old columns I wrote for MIT’s student newspaper. Then I'd start writing regularly. Did the former but not the latter.

January 2005: The ol’ New Year’s resolution got me to get a Movable Type blog set up and all 9 or 10 of my posts transferred over to this site. Then I fiddled around with this site’s oh-so-very-complicated(whatever) format while procrastinating some more.

March 2005: Finally, around March 15 I set a deadline for myself of April 1. Yes, on April 1 I would begin writing on this thing. I even told my friend Owen about my April 1 deadline and made some corny joke about "no more fooling around" because of April 1 being April Fool's Day when he asked about linking to my writing from his new site. Sure enough, April 1 came and went, just like the 500+ days before it.

Perhaps I’ve finally learned my lesson that, as they say in the book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, execution is "the missing link between aspirations and results."*

I could have all the ideas and dreams in the world, but they'll be all for naught if I don’t do anything about them.

And, if I do something cool, it will be rewarded. Case in point: My friend Ramit started a personal finance blog (IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com) last summer and it's already been featured in the Wall Street Journal.

I'm not doing this to get in the Wall Street Journal. I'm doing it to share my ideas on how people can find and do what they really want to do when they grow up -- work that's fun, rewarding, and remarkable. Hopefully, I'll help a few people along the way. But after 18 months of procrastination, the important thing is that I'm doing it at all.

*If you still prefer procrastination to execution for today, I recommend getting this to hang above your desk. At least you'll get a laugh before feeling crappy about not doing what you know can.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 13 April 2005 Permalink