When you’re a kid, you’re allowed to dream big. Hell, you’re encouraged to dream big. It when we start to get older that we are told that we have to be realistic. We’re expected, when we are in our teens, to chose a path in life and study it. We’re expected, usually in the junior year of high school, to pick a single road to take and drive down it for the rest of our lives.
You can barely drive. You can’t vote. You can’t drink alcohol.
Damn it, you better know what you want to spend the rest of your life doing.
At 15 years old, I got my first real job as a bag boy in a grocery store. In just over two years I had worked my way up to night manager. I had found my comfort zone and I was pretty damn convinced that this was where I belonged for the rest of my life.
I was told in no uncertain terms that I would be going to college. I didn’t want to, I had found a job with what I thought was good money and I was sticking to it. I was advancing and had benefits and job security.
That wasn’t good enough, I had to go to college. At first I set my sights on a degree in business management. That lasted about as long as it took me to fill out my application and something made me change my mind. I applied as an English Major with a Secondary Education concentration.
Summer of my freshman year, I successfully auditioned for and won a spot as a part of Human Action Theatre (HAT), a group that had captured my attention during my own orientation a year prior. That fall I began taking theatre classes in addition to my major course load. Much to the dismay of my parents, I added a second degree path- Theatre.
I threw myself full-force into the theatre life and in 2005, became the director of HAT and was involved in more and more groups on campus including Program Council and the National Residence Hall Honorary. (You can read more about all of my shenanigans on campus on my professional blog post My Unsolisited Advice to the Class of 2017)
I graduated in the Spring of 2009 with a BA in English and another in Theatre with no idea what the hell I was doing other than looking at an amassed debt of over $50,000 in student loans.
At this time I was still working at the grocery store but had no idea what I was actually doing with my life.
In early 2009 I had landed a couple of jobs as an internet safety speaker at some local school. I had developed a small chunk of Human Action Theatre bits into an educational program and had done well with it. In the fall I took a chance and invested some time, energy and money into building a business around speaking professionally. While still working at the grocery store, I built this business and took speaking engagements during my days off.
At one point, when I was still in school, one of my HAT cast mates was making fun of me and commented “Josh, you can’t do HAT for the rest of your life.”
As I began to travel more and more to new and unfamiliar places for speaking jobs, I started taking time to explore. I would plan extra days just to see the sites and basically become a giant tourist. It was during all of this that I found an absolute love of aquariums. I mean, I had always loved the ocean and sea creatures but this was on a new level.
In an effort to start moving outside of my comfort zone even more, I applied to volunteer at the New England Aquarium in Boston. In October of 2010 I joined the education department on Mondays as a volunteer.
It was a whole new world and I was in love.
Having seen a great big world outside of the bubble I had worked myself into, life at the grocery store became unbearable. It was also around this time that we had a shake-up in management and my relationship with the new manager wasn’t the greatest. I was bitter and burnt-out.
My speaking career was taking off and I was really enjoying my time at the aquarium. So in June of 2011, after ten and a half years, I worked my final shift at the store and said goodbye to a life I had thought would be my forever.
That summer I took a seasonal job at the aquarium as a Visitor Assistant in order to make money while schools weren’t in session. Truth told, the manager of the department didn’t want to hire me. I was overqualified for the job and he was worried that I wouldn’t take well to not being in charge. The reality was, I was looking forward to not having to be in charge. By the end of the summer I was offered a full-time lead position which I turned down, wanting to focus on speaking full time, which was my reasoning for leaving the grocery store in the first place.
My hard work and determination paid off and I was working regularly as a professional educational speaker.
Leading in to the summer of 2012, I applied for a seasonal supervisor position for the aquarium’s box office. I landed the job and was excited for a fun, new challenge within my home away from home. I loved my fellow supervisors, my manager and my team more than I could possibly say. I’ll be honest in saying that of all the jobs I’ve had, this one was certainly my favorite.
When I was offered and extension on my season, I gladly took it. I stuck around to help cover vacations for the full-time regular supervisors and some weekends here and there. When HR told my manager that she needed to cut my loose since this was supposed to be a seasonal job, she lobbied her director to add a part-time regular supervisor to her budget to keep me around during the year.
He said yes. I said yes.
I was still working full-time during the school year as a speaker, while being able to make some extra money on the side. I would then go back to full-time during the summer.
At one point, when one of the full-time supervisors moved into a new position in the reservations department, I was offered her job. I was tempted but declined, opting to stick with my part-time status.
My reasoning was two-fold. One, demand for my services had grown significantly and I had become one of the more sought-after speakers on the topics of bullying prevention and internet safety. Two- I had learned a powerful lesson from working full-time at the grocery store. I had reached the top rung of the ladder and had no room to move on. That’s what this job would have been. I would have become bored and tired of the same old thing and burn-out.
Come 2014 I was starting to itch for something new, something big.
I had been making regular trips to Florida and had fallen in love. Theme parks, warm weather and a chance to really mix things up.
In June of 2014, I found myself not only saying goodbye to a job but to everything I knew. I wasn’t just stepping outside my comfort zone, I was kissing it goodbye. It was terrifying and amazing all at the same time.
Through the power of social media I started meeting new people: theme park fanatics, photographers and bloggers. I was building a new home.
But I still didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I was touring all throughout the school year and spending summers writing blog posts, preparing advertisements, planning for the fall, etc. Not to mention spending as much free time playing in the theme parks as possible.
But I’m me, and I soon found myself longing for something new and, honestly, some human interaction. My nomadic lifestyle was all well and good but I spend a lot of time by myself. At one point I had the thought, “If I were every accused of a murder, I’d have ZERO alibis… except the cats and those fuckers would frame me so fast.”
In January of 2016 I decided I needed a new challenge, some social interaction, and a some extra income wasn’t going to hurt either. I applied for a serving job and was hired. It has certainly been an eye-opening experience over the last couple years.
When the manager that hired me was promoted and transferred to another location, I ended up following because I really enjoyed working with her and I was feeling stuck at my current location. I was able to grow, develop and had more opportunity for growth. Since transferring I’ve taken the reigns as Training Captain, became a bartender and a shift lead.
In April of this year, I took another serving job at a restaurant over on iDrive. It afforded me the opportunity to work less and make the same amount of money. So I’ve since dedicated three days a week there and the remainder at my other job.
Did I mention I’m still touring?
We’re in summer now so I’ve got some down time. So working up a storm at the restaurants isn’t a problem.
But an interesting question has come up this past week. At both jobs, one day after the other, I was approached by a manager and asked, “So what is your plan? You ambition?”
Here’s the honest truth.
I have no idea.
With the state of our country and school budgets being the way they are, my speaking engagements have fallen off in the last couple years. They are still happening but not as often. After almost a decade of life on the road, I find myself wondering what the next step could possibly be.
What I do know is this.
I have many regrets in my life. Friends I trusted too much. Guys I loved to hard only to be hurt. Poor decisions that lead me down some shitty paths.
But I don’t regret never settling for less than I deserve.
So many times in my life, I could have easily settled for what was safe and comfortable. I could have stayed at the grocery store. I’d probably be a store manager by now, or maybe even upper management at this point. I could have stayed on at the aquarium, something I truly adored being a part of. I could give in to my managers at the restaurant and join their ranks.
But that’s not what I want. That’s not what makes me happy. That’s not where my passion is.
So what is it?
I haven’t a clue.
And that’s perfectly acceptable.
We are told so many lies growing up and a big one is that we need to have a plan, a path. We need to find that one thing that we want to do for the rest of our lives and do it.
Do you have any idea how many people I have met that did just that and are some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met in my life. That’s not what I want to be and you shouldn’t either.
Life is about discovering who you are and creating a life that you would be proud of. It’s yours to build. Pursue what you love, try new things, and do what makes you happy.
Are you going to discover it right away? Probably not.
Take some time an explore. Explore your town, your state, your country. Travel. Take a seasonal job here and there. Wait tables. Work in an office.
Find your passion. Find what makes you happy.
Don’t settle for what’s comfortable just because you’re afraid of failing.
I have failed so many times. Over and over again. But that is why I succeed. Because I’m not willing to give up just because things get hard.
Is my life perfect? Far from it.
But it’s mine.