Go to campus career fairs. Get the resume ready. Practice interviewing. Apply for open positions. Land a secure corporate job.
Or…find what you love to do and go do it.
Megan Gebhart chose the latter.
Approaching the pending end of college, Megan, like most of her fellow students, was anxious about getting the perfect job after graduation.
Then she had a cup of coffee with a stranger.
That stranger became her best friend. That one cup of coffee led to 52 more. Those cups of coffee took her to 29 cities, 12 states, 7 countries and provided a new perspective on life’s possibilites, and ultimately a job that she defines as perfect.
It all took place during Megan’s aptly named 52 Cups of Coffee project, during which she had a coffee conversation with a new person each week for a year.
She had coffee with Seth Godin and Steve Wozniak. She had coffee with the president of her university, a farmer, a Harvard professor, various entrepreneurs, and an ultra-marathoner, to name just a few.
Through those conversations, she not only gleaned an immense amount of perspective, but she found what she loved to do–travel, meet people, and tell stories. By pursuing what she loved to do, she was offered a job that was tailor-made for her–yes, traveling, meeting people, and telling stories.
On to the interview:
[MV] How did the 52 Cups of Coffee experiment start?
[MG] I received an email out of the blue from kid named Brett. After a conversation with the Director of Career Services at Michigan State regarding a project I was working on, the director realized that Brett had done the same project and decided that the two of us had a lot in common, so he mentioned that to Brett.
We had coffee, and realized we had a lot in common. While initially nervous, I left that meeting exhilarated and I knew it was the start of something big. Brett became one of my best friends and I couldn’t help but wonder: if meeting one new person could have such an effect on my life, what would a year of meeting new people do?
So you knew you wanted to meet new people, but how did you decide on the structure and who you meet up with?
I think it was a mixture of things. I’ve always got various little projects going on and I’m always looking for something to do. I was looking for a project that involved writing and sharing stories. And I knew I wanted to get out and meet new people, so I combined the two and started it as an experiment.
You obviously learned a lot in the 52 conversations throughout your project. What themes stick out for you?
Throughout the conversations, I realized that the happiest people I talked to were the ones that went their own way in life and chose the way they wanted to live. Or others had things happen in their lives that forced them to live differently and they embraced it and were able to make it work in their own way.
The best example of this was Brett’s mom [Brett was the initial coffee conversation] who said “the happiest people are the ones that stop looking from the outside in and from the inside out”.
And I realized that the pressure I put on myself was from what other people wanted me to do. I decided to figure out what I was passionate about and go from there. And the thing that gave me the confidence was that a lot of the success stories of the people I talked to was the fact that those people that had the curiosity to figure out what they were passionate about, the courage to do it, and the perseverance to make it happen.
I was going to all of these resume-building and job search seminars and all of that felt so artificial to me. And I realized that the traditional 9 to 5 corporate job lifestyle was not something I wanted to do. So I kept meeting new people and traveling and I had the confidence that things would be okay.
So you not only had the realization that the standard corporate job path wasn’t for you, but you had the courage to do something different. But you didn’t have any plan for how converting that into a living.
Right. Traveling is a lot of fun, but it does require money. So I was traveling around Europe and I decided that by September I needed to find a job. Then just when I was about to get serious about a job search, the perfect job found me. A contact I had at the Michigan State Alumni Association reached out to me and we worked together to build a job that enables me to travel, meet MSU alumni, and tell their stories.
So by pursuing what you love to do, you were approached with a job that lets you continue doing what you love to do. How is it going so far?
It’s been great. I’ve been able to continue living nowhere for the past year while traveling and meeting people.
In the 52 conversations you had, you received lots of advice. What advice would you give to people that realize that they want to pursue their own path, but might not know where to start?
Any life change or big goal starts with one step. Just take some sort of first step. I might be biased, but the first step is to find that thing that lights a spark inside of you, then find someone that is doing that, or has that experience, and reach out and have a conversation with that person.
In that conversation, you’re very likely to find something that leads you to step two and see where that takes you. And hopefully you get to a point where all of these things add up and you’re living the way you want. But the most important thing is to just start. You’ve got to take the first step.
You can check out Megan’s 52 Cups of Coffee site here: http://52cups.tumblr.com/
Check her out on Twitter: @megangebhart
Hear her tell her story at her TedEx presentation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkXyzDFt6qg
Now get out there and do something to get you to the next step. Perhaps have a cup of coffee with a person you want to meet?