July 4, 2021

Whatever career you choose for your life…or whatever career chooses you…it is never your career that defines you.

It’s also not a “vocation” that defines you…although that gets a little closer to the roots of who you are, who you want to be, and what you want to share with the world.

But that doesn’t tell the entire story either.

Some definitions first:

Career: an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress (my underline).

Vocation: a strong feeling of suitability (my underline) for a particular career or occupation.

Regarding your career, progress is defined more by objective metrics such as money, title, status.

Regarding your vocation, suitability is a more subjective metric…but not complete.

There’s a third category regarding “what you are doing with your life”…in terms of your career and/or your vocation…which for me, begins and ends with your dreams, aspirations, and most importantly, passion.

I urge you to think back to your childhood…as far back as elementary school when you were dreaming about being anything you wanted to be…or when you graduated high school when those dreams may have gotten “revised” a bit…or even post-college (if you attended college) when they undoubtedly got revised further.

However, I maintain that whatever your core passions were early in life—which may or may not have any relationship to your career or your vocation today—are still alive and well.

And there is no reason to ever abandon them.

Your life is part career, part vocation…but the most important parts of your life are your dreams (which can come true in many different ways).

They must for ultimate happiness.

On a recent podcast the host asked me an intriguing “final question” (after an hour of lively banter) that went like this:

“If you could start again and had to take a different route in life, what would you be? And this is not a question about regrets. Rather, it’s about what other passion areas of yours that if you had a second life to live, what would you do differently to make those passions real?”

Like I often do when I’m on podcasts, I told him I wanted to answer a different question, one not about “starting again” but rather incorporating those “other passion areas” in the life I’ve chosen already.

And that it’s not about “what I would be” but “who I am already” (within the construct of the choices I’ve made).

That just seemed more constructive…and enlightening…and my conclusion was that all of the things I thought about becoming upon graduating from college I had become…without making any of them my career or vocation.

More on that in a minute.

But here’s the re-phrasing of the same question in four parts (with the first three borrowed from a site I found while Googling on this subject called WORKALPHA):

1) What are the passions and talents you have noticed in your life ever since you were a child (or young adult)?

2) Even if you do not actually pursue them (directly) now, take a few minutes to reflect back why you enjoyed these activities so much?

3) What do they really mean to you?

And my bonus question:

4) Look at your career, your vocation and your life today in terms of those passions…have you really abandoned those passions and talents or are they part of who you are every day no matter what you “do for a living?” How do they show up in your life every day?

#4 is the question I asked this past week during breakout rooms on our weekly Titans Xclelerator call which ignited epiphanies galore among the members…so I wanted to share the same exercise with you today.

It’s the difference between “what you want to be when you grow up” vs. “who you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s always within your power to create this distinction.

Let me give the examples from my life when I did this exercise which hopefully will make it clearer for you to do this exercise yourself…which I highly recommend.

And I invite you to share what you learned by asking yourself “question #4” above.

Having a dream job or career that never materializes in its purest form can still be pursued in many other ways. There is never any reason to abandon the dream.

I’m sure you have received advice throughout your life that you should never compromise and only pursue that one thing you were destined to do.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out since we still need to eat and find shelter so often we need to follow the more conservative advice about playing it safe and forget about all of those pipe dreams.

For most of us, being a little more pragmatic takes precedence…but that doesn’t include abandoning your most passionate passions.

You need to go deeper. Or maybe you have already.

Here’s how I did it which may help you think about this concept in your own life.

I recall that when I was a senior in college I had three career paths that were speaking to me (i.e. “what I wanted to be when I grew up”):

1) Becoming a professional baseball umpire (I even applied and was accepted to THE school for Major League Umpires)

2) Becoming an English professor (which went as far as receiving an offer to enter the PhD program at Idaho State University)

3) Becoming a movie critic (which included acceptance to New York University’s graduate school in film criticism).

There were other professions on the list…not on my list but on the list of “preferred jobs” from my parents…CPA, Lawyer and the like…you know, “real jobs.” ☺

Clearly I pursued none of the above as a lifelong career…I guess that’s obvious since I write to you every week with marketing propaganda that has little to do with baseball, literature, or films of the great directors.

On second thought, I’m pursuing all of those passions (not including accounting or law of course) in one way or another in my life today.

1) I am not a Major League Umpire but I umpire baseball at a high level in my spare time (varsity high school and tournament little league)…and I’ve written to you on a number of occasions how umpiring made me a better marketer. Read this if you don’t believe me.

2) I don’t teach English…as a first language, a second language or through literature…but my life is all about teaching. Read this so I can prove that to you as well.

And since my passion is also writing, my life has that incorporated into it as well.

Not as a world class copywriter or author but like this.

While I may have stopped reading Dickens and Melville, I now read lots of non-fiction instead; and as you know, since I assume you are reading this right now, I write and share this marketing blog with you every Sunday whether you read it (or open it) or not.

Maybe you would have preferred that I majored in accounting rather than English? ☺

As an aside, my justification to my parents regarding why majoring in English was a good idea at the time:

“I will learn how to read and write.”

Mission accomplished (I think).

3) I am not writing movie reviews for a living but like so many of you, I go to the movies regularly…and although I am not asked to post reviews anywhere significant (sigh), I am very confident that I am the best film critic in my own mind. ☺

The movie posters of Pulp Fiction, It’s a Wonderful Life and Midnight Cowboy that hang on the wall behind me whenever I do any video blog or Zoom are no accident.

They not only enable me to exhibit one of my passions visually for all to see…but those films (in addition to hundreds of others) have made me a better thinker and writer since I study screenplays as part of my current “job.”

I also look for lessons from the big screen when the lights go down (and after chomping on a bag of popcorn) that I can apply to my lifelong passions of direct marketing, copywriting and entrepreneurship, similar to how I apply umpiring and teaching.

I even did a video blog with the great Ben Settle on “marketing lessons from Frank Capra” (who directed “It’s a Wonderful Life” and many other classic films). You can check it out here.

All of this reminded me of a candidate years ago who I interviewed for a job to run a trade books division for my company and he told me his “main qualification” for the position was:

“I read a lot of books”

Therefore, I am a legitimate movie critic because “I watch a lot of movies.”

I bet you can find many places in your life where your passions show up…and it doesn’t matter if you get paid for them or not. They are priceless and eternal.

And I didn’t share all of my “broken dreams” for you to feel sorry for me.

On the contrary, I wanted to emphasize that no matter what vocation you have chosen (or will choose), I encourage you to figure out ways to incorporate all of your passions into your daily life whenever and wherever possible.

Looking back I know that it would be a lot easier on me today if, over dinner, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I could simply say I am an accountant or a lawyer.

It’s just so easy to say it and have them get it.

Difficulties arise when I even hint that I am some kind of “consultant” in direct marketing—I can see the wheels turning in their minds, saying to themselves, “oh…I get it…he’s unemployed.”

But before they start feeling sorry for me that my profession is impossible to explain and obviously can’t be lucrative (e.g. “I run masterminds”), changing the subject to my passions of umpiring, reading and writing and movie watching seems to always end the pity party.

Everyone will accept your passions…they have to…because they are yours forever.



P.S. The next Breakthrough Advertising Quickstart Bootcamp will begin on Monday September 27th.

Those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a two week, online sprint of calls, exercises, hot seats (on your product or service) and discussions to get the most out of the most magnificent book ever written about copywriting, marketing and human behavior.

And if you click here right now, you can get on the waiting list for one of the 60 exclusive seats once we open it up shortly after Labor Day.

The first one (which was held in April) got rave reviews…with actionable results for all…so please sign up now.

If you don’t have a copy of Breakthrough Advertising yet, there’s no time like the present.

Click here to buy a copy…and then sign up for the Bootcamp here.

If you are already signed up, see you on the “inside” in September.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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