Think back to when you were still a kid in school. For days and weeks and months on end during the school year, the routine was the same: you caught an aging yellow school bus in the morning, worked your way through the same regimented class schedule with subjects that had been taught 1,000 times before, and ate the same mass-produced lunch in the same cafeteria.
But amid all of this dreary routine, there was one day that always stood out: the field trip.
The field trip was your only escape from the repetitive doldrums of your life. It was also the only time the school bus took you somewhere interesting: a museum, an aquarium, some cool kind of factory, or really any place that WASN’T your classroom for a day.
All it took was a permission slip from your parents. Without that, you were doomed.
Now replace “school” with “work.” For far too many people, the repetitive scene I’ve just described is how they live their professional lives. They endure a terrible commute each morning, go through the motions each day, and aren’t excited by their work. The only bright spots are the weekends.
But as an adult, you don’t need a permission slip to do what you love. Here are four examples of people who didn’t ask for permission before breaking out the daily grind:
– Alexis Ohanian is an entrepreneur, author, investor, and the co-founder of Reddit.com, one of the most popular sites on the internet. He didn’t take his University of Virginia degree in history, management, and international business and get a full-time job at a Fortune 500 company or spend his 9 to 5 translating business contracts into German (his minor).
Instead, he followed a non-traditional route and was chosen along with Steve Huffman to be in the original class at start-up incubator Y-Combinator. No one gave him permission to start Reddit, and he didn’t ask. Because of that, he’d go on to sell the company to Conde Nast in 2006, which allowed him to subsequently invest in dozens of new companies following non-traditional paths.
– Cesar Kuriyama did start out on the traditional path, working long hours as a video director and producer. Then he decided to write his own permission slip, deciding not to take a day off, but a year.
As he told CNN in 2012, “Frankly I was burnt out. I’d been constantly working nights until midnight, until 2 in the morning, weekends and I wasn’t getting my creative juices off so after having seen Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on ‘The power of time off,’ I decided to save up enough money over the course of about two years and took a year off so that I could travel, spend more time with my family and pursue my own creative ideas.”
Along the way, he did something groundbreaking. He took a one second video of his life every single day. The idea, he said, “originally started out as a way for me to chronicle my year off from work … but I realized that it was helping me in many more ways.”
His project led to a TED talk, which led to an app to help others do the same, one second every day.
– Five years ago, Jessica Lawrence was working for a company most people associate with cookies, not careers: the Girl Scouts of America. After supporting a community of 75 staff, 5,000 volunteers, 15,000 girls, and making an enormous impact on the organization, Lawrence decided it was time to move from Southern California to Silicon Alley, and think even bigger.
She is now the Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup, the largest Meetup in the world and a 33,000-member non-profit organization helping to build a sustainable and diverse technology industry in New York.
– Michelle Ward wanted to be an actress since the age of 6. After majoring in musical theater at N.Y.U., she lived the life, performing everywhere from cruise ships and small towns to an appearance on Saturday Night Live.
But when the difficult life of auditions and unknowns grew tiresome, she tried to get a “real” job. She really did. She went through seven traditional jobs in four years, until one day she declared, “Enough! I refuse to accept that there is nothing else out there that I’m going to love doing!”
As she explains on her website, “I enrolled in a Career Change Workshop at NYU, and through a series of personality tests, exercises, and conversations with my classmates, I realized that I wanted to help others find their own path, especially ‘creative types’ that thought they wanted one thing their whole life and now have to rewrite their plans. I wanted to help them figure out what they wanted to be When They Grow Up.”
While you’ll still find Michelle occasionally gracing the stages of New York, by day she coaches creative women how to get out of their soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play.
If you’re reading this at work right now, snap out of the daydream about that trip to the Museum of Science as a kid. If you truly enjoy your work most days, fantastic. If not, maybe it’s time to give yourself permission to do something more interesting.