I hate it when someone who isn't me — a workplace columnist — dispenses good career advice. Sadly, it happens from time to time, and it has happened in a big way with the publication of a new book by Josh Shipp.
The book is called Jump Ship. At first blush, it's just the kind of workplace book I love to mock. A title that's a play on the author's name, written by a peppy guy in his 30s who has starred in reality television shows. Can't be any good, right?
Jump Ship is a smart and honest freight train of a book, one that's as witty and approachable as it is pragmatic. Subtitled Ditch Your Dead-End Job and Turn Your Passion Into a Profession, the book lays out a sensible path for people who feel they could be doing something better with their lives.
Many can envision a dream job, but few are willing to put in the hard work involved in turning an abstract concept into a sensible reality.
"Yes, you can do it, but it's going to be hard as hell," Shipp said in an interview. "If it wasn't hard, everyone would love their job. Anything that's meaningful is going to be challenging, but 'impossible' and 'difficult' are not synonyms."
In the book, he tells the reader it's okay to quit, but he adds this essential caveat: "Smart people quit the right things at the right time."
That resonated with me. I was a chemical engineer before I became a journalist. Once I figured out that journalism was the path I wanted to follow, my parents fully supported that decision, but they asked one thing of me: "Don't quit your job until you have everything figured out. Be smart about it."
I talked to people in the industry. I started working at a newspaper on the side to get a feel for the business. I figured out what it would take to eventually find work that would pay enough to keep me afloat. It turned out the best path for me was to return to school for a master's degree in journalism, which allowed me to launch my new career on better footing. The path wasn't easy, but it worked.
Everyone's path is going to be different, and what Shipp does so well is set up steps to help you start mapping your unique path.
He asks you to first let your mind run wild and establish your dream job. That can be a hard thing to do, as we all have practical concerns that swoop in and squash our more fanciful thoughts.
Shipp writes: "You're embarrassed. Or you're too proud, too practical, too scared, or too scarred to actually do the vulnerable, hopeful, yet unappreciated work of dreaming. You'll say that dreaming feels like a waste of time; what you mean is that you've had dreams crushed in the past and have trained yourself not to get your hopes up."
Okay, so that sounds like the typical "hitch your wagon to a star" blah-blah found in most career books. But Shipp pivots quickly to a second step: Refine your dream job.
You've figured out what you think you want, now figure out:
A) Is it definitely as good as it sounds?
B) How do you "define your dream through the lens of reality"?
"Whatever you think your dream job is, you need to go test-drive it," Shipp said. "When most of us get our information about what we want to do for a living, we get some kind of Hollywood version of it. It shouldn't scare you to find the ugly parts of the dream job."
So find people who do what you think you want to do and talk to them, maybe even take time off work and shadow people in this new field.
"To me, there's no 100 percent dream job," Shipp said. "But there's something around 80 percent, and you have to be sure you're cool with that 20 percent that's lame or not in your sweet spot. The sooner people can do that, the better. You're less likely to waste tears, years and dollars along the way."
Once you've nailed down what you want to do, the rest is, in essence, hard work. Shipp offers some solid steps, but the distilled version is: Get off your butt, figure out what you have to do, get the skills, get the connections and, when everything is in place, jump.
Shipp weaves his own powerful life experiences into the book — he was an orphan who bounced around foster homes, facing abuse and neglect — and it adds an authenticity you don't often find in workplace tomes. He makes you believe you can achieve something better, but he never insults you by making it sound easy.
Life is hard and, for most, good things don't just happen. We make them happen.
That's a lesson I'm happy Shipp has shared with the world.