With the current release of Top Gun 2, I was reminded about my educational and career experiences as a youth. It also provides me the perfect opportunity to talk about the idea of career aliveness. I think this is a vital career topic, because according to a Gallup organization survey, only a mere 28% of all workers are engaged in the work they do. So, there are plenty of people out there who are disengaged. There are many reasons for this, but in this blog, I want to discuss this crucially important one.
I am not sure how many people will remember the original Top Gun movie. For the younger generation, they may not know about this movie at all. It was a movie starring Tom Cruise who plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a F-14 fighter pilot. The main storyline involves his flight training adventures at Top Gun, which is based on the real training academy called U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, formerly based at Miramar Naval Air Station. For me, as a young 16-year old boy, the movie had everything that I would want in a story; an awesome 80’s rock song, a pretty blonde girl and a gritty dramatic story line, but most of all it had lightening fast and cool fighter jet scenes. I could see myself sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet, doing crazy dogfight maneuvers like kicking on the afterburner and performing jaw-dropping barrel rolls and yo-yo’s. I was pilot in my prime!
Let’s fast forward many years later. This dream turned into a choice to be an aeronautical engineer. I thought instead of flying planes, I would design them. Eventually, I found myself sitting in engineering classes and hating every single minute. Somebody should have warned me about all the calculus. Go figure!?
Maybe you have had or still have a career dream. You know like being a cop, chasing down a ”perp” and bringing him to justice. Your dream might be about being a doctor who dashes into the emergency room, saving a person from a deadly heart attack. Maybe you see yourself as a young Thomas Edison creating an invention that will change the world. I get it though! You might be saying, “Kerryn, dreams like this are not even close to the actuality of a real-life job.” Yes, I would agree. Not many pilots are doing crazy sonic boom fly-bys when they are in the air, just to annoy air traffic controllers. Also, on the other extreme, some of you might be thinking that your dreams are so crazy that if you told other people about them, they would fall down in a fit of hysterical laughter. However, these comments miss the entire point of this specific career exercise, which is to start an internal conversation and dialogue with yourself about career aliveness.
Even though I never pursued my dream as an aeronautical engineer, and I totally missed the mark of understanding the realities about being a true fighter pilot (Cut me some slack for being 16-years old), it was the first opportunity to ask myself an essential career question that I think most people ignore. It is the question, “What makes you come alive?” I do not believe that many people ask themselves this fundamental and essential question. Most people think they need to be completely “realistic” in their career choice. Unfortunately, I think that the idea of “realism” and being “practical” eliminates the vital aspect of joy, as part of their career. I agree that there are many important practical questions that we need to ask when we are in our careers. These questions include “What are the key qualifications employers look for?”, “Should I go on to higher education?”, “What salary will I be making?”, “What am I good at?”, and “How do get the promotion I want?” There are many important career questions. However, asking what makes you alive is the quintessential question that if you never ask, you will never ever discover your true potential. I also believe it will lead to career that is completely unfulfilling.
Ultimately, finding activities that bring passion, deep interest and excitement to your career are major contributors to a positive life. More importantly it will support your overall well-being and help you reach your highest potential. Many people choose work that becomes ordinary, mundane and dull. These moments of monotony turn into days, which turn into months. These months eventually turn into years of boring and never-ending work. The daily work that you choose is one of the most essential factors to whether you will be highly engaged. It’s surprising that many people never ask this simple question.
One person who exemplifies exploring activities that cultivate aliveness is Richard Branson. I think most of you know who Richard Branson is, but I will highlight his accomplishments. Branson is an English entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist and founder of the Virgin Group, which includes more than 400 companies throughout 30 countries. He is a larger than life character, having gained notoriety through many daring and audacious achievements. Richard has set a record for the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon. He successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean and made attempts with several colleagues to circumnavigate the entire globe by balloon. As of 2014, he held the records for the oldest person to cross the English Channel by kiteboard. He has millions of followers on LinkedIn and is the richest reality TV presenter with an estimated worth of £3 billion. In 2004, he founded a spaceflight corporation, Virgin Galactic. As recently as July 2021, Branson travelled as a passenger onboard Virgin Galactic Unity 22, a spaceplane that travelled to edge of space.
One quote that Richard Branson lives by is, “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.” He reveals that he has always searched out adventure because it is where he feels the most alive. Branson attributes his success in building businesses, expanding his mind, and discovering new perspectives on having a true spirit of adventure. He uses this essential principle of aliveness to go beyond his limits and has been able to forge an unparalleled career and life. Richard Branson seems to hold on to dreams, like those that we had as kids. What happened to these dreams? So, if you haven’t asked yourself what makes you come alive, you need to do it! After all, a balloon flying, space-trotting, wealthy billionaire might have some very wise and enlightening career advice. It might be the critical difference between you attaining an extraordinary career that is fully alive or one of absolute unfulfillment.