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Think Big in 2004

By Marty Nemko

Dear career changers, I know all the reasons you think you shouldn’t be too ambitious:

“I’m not talented enough.” Is George Bush talented enough to be the Leader of the Free World? Are Jerry Seinfeld, 50 Cent, or Ellen DeGeneris the most talented performers? And how about all those marionette TV news readers? Do they have prodigious talent? What they all had, more than anything, was focus, drive.

But you say,”I don’t have much drive.” If heretofore, you’ve shown less drive than a metrosexual who hasn’t had his eyebrow wax, you probably need a friend or relative to be your loving taskmaster, to relentlessly cheerlead: “You can do it. Go on. Take the next baby step.” Once you get rolling, you’ll build momentum and may even be able to fire your cheerleader.

Some people feel they have talent and drive, but still think small because they feel, “I don’t deserve to be a big success.” Let’s say you feel guilty for having screwed up your life so far. A great way to redeem yourself is to start making a difference. Gangster Jimmy Boyle became known as “Scotland’s most violent man” and sentenced to life in prison for murder. While in jail, he became a successful sculptor and author, and as a result, received early parole. A feature film then was made about him. If Jimmy Boyle can succeed, so can you.

But you say, “I don’t even know what big thing I should aspire to?” I’ve found that most people who are passionate about their work fall into one of four categories: artistic creatives (those that want to write, paint, sing, build, etc.), entrepreneurs, investigators (e.g., scientists, detectives) and helpers: (doctors, social workers, etc.)

Which of those categories fits you? And within that category, what big goal should you pursue—either as a career, sideline, or hobby? My wife, Barbara Nemko just got cast in a large role in a local production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs ( and she’s deriving enormous pleasure from it, even though it doesn’t pay her a dime.

Okay, let’s say you’ve decided (oh so tentatively) to shoot for an exciting career or avocational goal. You’ve even gotten yourself a cheerleader/coach. You still might procrastinate. Here are common excuses for procrastination and my responses.

“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen.” That’s woo-woo crap. There is no destiny. Yes, there is luck, but unless you give considerable effort, the odds are, luck won’t save you.

“I feel like my husband (or parent or sibling) would, on some level, feel bad if I succeeded.” Anyone who would feel better if you fail shouldn’t be in your life. Chances are though, most of the person wants you to succeed. If you’re not sure, ask that person for reassurance. In turn, offer reassurance that if you do succeed, you won’t abandon him or her.

“Going after that big goal is so overwhelming.” Giant mountains are climbed with single steps. If you just put one foot in front of the other, before you know it, you’ll look back down and be amazed how far you climbed. And even if you don’t make it all the way up the top, your life will probably be better than if you never started.

You can make your climb fun. Make every phone call and letter pleasant—by not overselling yourself, and by trying to create a human connection with each person you interact with.

What about the unpleasant parts of your climb? That’s where discipline comes in. Stay with it, reminding yourself that the short-term pain will be outweighed by the long-term gain.

“I somehow feel like, at this stage, it shouldn’t require so much work to succeed. I almost feel like a good job should be coming to me.” Get over it. (So much for me being a sensitive male.)

Advice I’d Give My Child

You, like everyone else, deserve a job you enjoy. Life is too short to spend the best hours of your day bored or unhappy. Whatever pain is required to find a creative job in a pleasant environment is dwarfed by the rewards you’ll reap. Please, pick a big exciting goal and go for it. To get started, what baby step to do you need to take today?

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