It’s the oldest question in existence:
What should I do with my life?
After having gone through my own quarter-life career crisis years ago (and also having watched countless friends wrestling with where to steer their lives), I’ve got one recommendation:
Do what you’re dorky about.
Yep, I said “dorky.”
Note, I did not say: “Do what you love.”
Because there are many things we love. I love art. I love great wine. I love modern architecture. I love acting, cycling, jazz, sports cars, a great documentary.
But love is not enough. You might love consuming something—like food or art—but do you love making it? Enough to make a career at it? Probably not.
Besides, we all love a bunch of things. And you can’t do a bunch of things.
But focusing on what you’re dorky about will set you free. As in, what’s the one field/ pursuit/ passion/ activity that turns you into a complete, utter dork? Makes you want to talk about it for hours. The one subject where friends of yours might say, “Oh, great, let’s not get you started on that, we’ll be here for days…” The one area that you’re so overly preoccupied with it makes you a little uncool.
That’s dorkiness. That’s what you want to find.
Because behind your dorkiness lies a dedication and tireless resolve that will pay off handsomely in time.
So, what are you truly dorky about?
What do you nerdily keep coming back to day after day?
For me, once I was honest with myself, the answer was just one thing: writing.
It was the one thing I truly couldn’t not do every single day. I started a journal at age 14, then poetry, then would take days to write letters to girls, sometimes even doing 4-5 drafts. I wrote out scripts before getting on phone calls to those same girls, as if rehearsing a standup routine. I was the first to raise my hand to read a poem in 8th grade. I collected quotations like some people collect coins. I underlined my favorite passages of novels—not just for a college essay, but because I loved insightful writing. And I grew incensed when someone used the wrong word in writing or conversation. Saying “adverse” when they meant “averse”? I nearly turned into the Hulk.
Now, writing wasn’t my first love, that was probably cars. It was just something I needed to do, like breathing.
And that’s when you know you’re onto something.
If no one else “gets” the depth of your dorkiness for something, that’s what you should do. If you’re inclined to do this stuff every day already, you might as well get paid for it.
And because you’re way more into it than others, you’ll probably be better at it than them, too. Now, it took me a while to figure out how to make a good living as a writer, but by trusting my dorkiness, I eventually found it.
The trick is to honestly really admit what you’re dorky about. Because it might not be what you originally had in mind. Or what your parents/ friends/ society wants you to be.
It’s what you’ll become great at.
The people who are truly dorky about something are the ones who end up changing the world. Steve Jobs was dorky about the idea of everyone having a personal computer to the point of total obsession. Kevin Systrom who started Instagram? Dorky about photos from a young age. Larry & Sergey of Google? Dorky about search.
I hear that Bobby Lopez realized when he was in college that he was just so dorky about songs from musicals, he wanted to spend his life writing them, even if it meant living in poverty. He eventually married Kristen Anderson and collaborated with her to write “Let It Go” for the movie Frozen, earning them a Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Emmy. They didn’t seek fame, but their inner dorks led them to it.
So step 1 is identifying and admitting what you’re dorky about. But step 2 is translating that dorky obsession into a career. It can be done, it just takes a little fine-tuning. Because, let’s be honest, not every career direction has unlimited job openings.
Take my friend Andrea, who was frustrated in her corporate career, but had a dorky obsession with brunch. She learned all the best brunch spots in New York and was always organizing brunches for friends. But she thought that sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon didn’t cover it deeply enough. So she quit her job and launched BrunchCritic, providing brunch advice and content like no other. Soon her dorky passion was her career.
My step-sister Michelle was having a hard time choosing a career, so I asked her: “Well, what do you do in your free time?” She joked, “Talk on the phone with friends all day?” I replied, “Maybe you’re a therapist.” Years later, she has her master’s and is now a school counselor, talking with kids all day. Her inner dork led her to a great career.
My friend Vember loved her dog, but hated how there weren’t many high-quality dog care grooming products out there. Soon she found tons of dog owners had the same complaint. So she created her own line of organic dog care products called The Healing Hound.
My friend James was dorky about the outdoors in college, so he went into environmental studies. “You’ll never make any money in it,” people warned him. He didn’t care. He got a job in Vermont measuring a local power company’s environmental impact. It only paid $24k his first year, but he was outside all day doing what he was dorky about. Soon he was hired by an energy company to focus on efficiency, and he started dorking out on the growing trend of wind power. So he helped his firm ride the wave and now he travels the country installing 400-foot-tall wind towers, saving the environment and making a million-dollar income. He didn’t even chase money, but he was so dorky about his area of focus, he naturally attracted it.
Another buddy of mine named Todd was a top international ski racer. But not quite good enough to make the Olympics. No worries: he parlayed his physical talent into being a career as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, eventually performing in Hollywood movies like Superman and X-Men.
How to identify your dorkiness.
Simply love reading? Boom: you’re a future literary agent or studio screenplay reader.
Love hosting parties? You’re an event planner—maybe for weddings, for hotels, or for corporations who need you to make their annual holiday party the stuff of legend.
Love constantly redecorating your apartment? Guess what: you’re an interior designer. Move to New York or LA and you could get paid millions per year to do it.
The point is: whatever crazy little sliver of daily life you dork out over, there’s a career for it. You just have to have a little imagination. Sure, some of them pay a little more than others, but that’s largely up to how valuable you make your dorkiness to others.
The ultimate lesson is: you don’t have to spend your life doing something you hate.
A career you can be passionate about is waiting for you. But you’ll never find it if you’re ashamed of your dorky side. Instead, embrace it like it’s the best part of you.
So take a close, honest look at your inner dork, and follow it wherever it may lead.