What do you want to be when you grow up?

By Steven Robert Carlson


Success isn’t always what it appears to be.

One of my friends is the CEO of a well-known European media company. He earns a good deal of money in his position. He’s well respected in his industry.

A while back this friend confessed to me he doesn’t even have to work that much at his job.

Wouldn’t you like to be in his shoes?

He achieved his position by selling his own company–which he built and grew from nothing–to a much larger media conglomerate. At this point the company practically runs itself.

My friend the CEO has it made.

He’s achieved his goals. He’s fought hard to win financial security, the respect of his peers and a cozy position at the top. At this point the work isn’t even that demanding.

His life is perfect, don’t you agree?

Except that my friend is bored silly.

The work he truly loved was the struggle and toil of building his own business. Having sold that company, he’s tied to a corporate desk with Golden Handcuffs.

My friend the CEO is frustrated and restless, hungry for new experiences. As odd as it might sound, he feels life passing him by.

Must we trade happiness for security?

Our roller coaster economy offers precious little job security. It feels like everbody I know is struggling through a career transition.

With each dip and turn we have to adapt. We’re forced to reinvent ourselves–again and again and again. And then, some of us fall off the roller coaster altogether.

Those of us with steady jobs and financial security talk about “getting a life.” But do you really have to sacrifice your happiness to earn a dollar?

Others pursue meaningful careers that offer personal satisfaction but little financial reward. Who said working at what you love means having to do without?

And even if you win the career jackpot–like my friend the CEO–you just might wake up one day to find life at the top isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

What happens when passion dies?

Some people arrive in this world knowing exactly what they want to do.

My friend Larry, the songwriter, is one of those lucky few. As a teenager in the 60s, he grew his hair long, picked up a guitar and he has never looked back. With persistance and love, Larry made it in the music business.

I’ve always envied that kind of certainty.

I’ve never known exactly what it is I was born to do.

I’ve switched careers several times. I’ve started businesses, freelanced from a home office and worked at corporate offices managing teams of other people.

All of this was satisfying for a time. Until it wasn’t.

The so-called gurus are always banging on about passion.

“Follow your bliss,” in the words of Joseph Campbell. As if all you need to do is get really, really enthusiastic about something and then everything else falls into place.

Well, I’ve done that.

I’ve been passionate about every new project and company. I’ve walked into every new job with hope and enthusiasm.

But eventually it happens.

That enthusiasm dissolves into a dreary tedium of checklists, reports, processes and deadlines.

My passion somehow becomes … work.

Isn’t it time to finally grow up?


At some point in our lives we need to grow up, stop fooling around and just get on with it. Isn’t this what our parents always told us?

Life gets complicated. We take on adult responsibilities. We fall in love, make babies, buy homes and take on debt.

So we make compromises.

We settle for a comfortable job that pays the bills. Or we struggle along in a fulfilling career that keeps bread on the table–but not much more.

All of this usually works out. Until it doesn’t.

Life has a way of shaking us out of our complacency.

Change might take the form of a financial crisis. A foreclosure or bankruptcy. A death in the family. A divorce. A mid-life crisis. More often than not it’s a combination of things.

And then you look in the mirror and ask yourself: Is this really me?

Is this the way I want to spend the rest of my life?

My only answer is a question

I know without a doubt that the greatest professional achievements in my 25+ year career came about when I was working from my heart.

It wasn’t always easy work. I didn’t always know where I was going. I didn’t always have a plan. I simply knew that I was moving in the right direction. And that was all I needed to know.

Working from the heart was also my most enjoyable work.

I didn’t mind putting in the hours. The work flowed. My work resonated with other people. I loved my work. It felt right to me.

Everything just fell into place. Until it didn’t.

Something always happened and my heart wasn’t in the work any more.

Now I was just putting in time, going through the motions. I got results–most of the time–but there was no joy. Others could see that, too. I had to push myself just to get through the day.

I saw this cycle repeated again and again.

Imagine 25 years like this.

On December 21, 2012 I spent a day in silent meditation.

I was looking for answers, but what I received was a question.

What if I could love my work?

That question has led me to some rather interesting places.

One year ago today I arrived on this pirate island in the Canaries.

I’ve cooked for hippies and tourists.

I joined up with a crew of Russians sailing an 18 meter ketch, the Rocinante.

I’m learning to work from my heart.

I wish I could offer you easy answers, quick fixes and success formulas. (Sorry Internet!) But I think you’re smart enough to know it doesn’t work that way.

I can tell you what works for me–and what doesn’t.

I can offer you questions that can take you to interesting places.

And I can entertain you with stories from this crazy pirate island.

I’d like to hear from you

If any of what I’ve written resonates with you, please write to me. What are you struggling with? What have you tried? What questions are you asking? Where’s the pain?

I’ve been working on this topic for two years, by myself. and now I want to broaden my perspective by hearing from you.

I’m sure your stories are at least as interesting as mine.

Remember my friend, the media CEO?

He found a unique solution to his dilemma which I’ll tell you about in one week’s time, so be sure to check back.

Or click on my picture, below, to receive these posts by email.