Career 12: Thinking outside the square

By John Dybvig

John Dybvig has had more than 100 jobs in his working life. Photo / Brett Phibbs
John Dybvig has had more than 100 jobs in his working life. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's been an erratic and unconventional career arc for author, broadcaster and sometime movie star John Dybvig - but it's been a heck of a ride.

Warning:  What you are about to read may alter your career choices. 

I started off my working career as an assistant basketball coach and wound up with my own newspaper column, my own radio show and, yes, even my own television show.  And not to be out done even by myself, I wrangled my way through Hollywood's back door and worked for Sir Peter Jackson as an actor in King Kong.

I told myself I could do it and I believed me. Career wise I have never followed the traditional path, probably my biggest mistake if you want to call it that (and I definitely don't) was to never have a five year plan - for example I once interviewed for the position of a head college basketball coach. 

When one of the interview panel asked me what my five year plan was I just looked at him and started to laugh: 'Five year plan? Are you kidding me? I don't have a five year plan! I've got a five minute plan, buddy.

I'm here right now - that's my plan.' 

My honesty lost the day and I didn't get the job, but I came out of that interview room feeling great, feeling liberated because I wasn't going to spin the guy a load of bull and that in itself is valuable - be true to yourself. When it came to work I just grabbed life's bull by the horns and rode it with glee. I've always been comfortable in my own skin so I don't really worry much about what others think and having a career plan is not for everyone.

I have variously worked as a wool presser, bartender, insurance salesman, teacher, peach-pit sweeper, plumber's assistant, medical sales rep, door-to-door salesman, fork lift driver, department store catalogue clerk, bus boy, dishwasher, smorgasbord food line manager, chicken fryer, house painter, telephone salesperson (yeah, I was that annoying guy), after dinner speaker, waiter, barista, security guard, actor, American accent coach, voice-over artist, sports bookie, radio talkback host, in the meat works, and writer to name a few.

 And the number one thing I've learned in a career that has spanned everything from shovelling pig shit to selling subliminal cybernetics is to back yourself.  I don't mean being cocky with a swagger rather have the firm belief in yourself that you can do whatever you're going after.  If you're truly involved in selling yourself then the by-product of that involvement will be concentration and relaxation (you'll come across as a real person). 

For instance I once walked into a small steel firm in the San Francisco Bay Area and talked my way into a position selling steel.  I knew less than absolutely zero about the product, but I sold myself, I was convinced in my own mind that I could learn the product and the president of the company was impressed enough to give me a chance. On the other hand if you're slick and glib your lack of involvement will stick out like a sore thumb to the interviewer and they won't take you seriously. 

Taking on a new job if nothing else is nerve wracking but even if you don't have all the answers (discovering them is called 'job satisfaction') if you're willing  to work hard the world really can be your oyster (I know that's a cliche - but some things never change and 'working hard' is one of them).  For instance I became an instant journalist.

A national newspaper invited me to write a weekly basketball column on the basis I was a hot shot American in the sport.  I didn't have a clue on how to write a column. And I was the world's most unlikely columnist. 

I couldn't type.  My handwriting was so bad I couldn't read it myself.  I hand printed my columns for six years before I learned to use a keyboard.  But, I was keen to learn all I could in this new endeavour and have gone on to write feature length articles for numerous magazines and have published six books. 

What I'm saying here is 'take risks' heading into any new job the unknown is the risky part but it's also the thrilling part, the most satisfying part  when you discover that, yes, yes I can do this task... or not. For instance I once thought it might be fun to work on a car assembly line. 

What I didn't count on was my hulking 200 pounds-plus, 6'3" frame meant I wasn't just struggling, I was struggling badly. I had to jump into the boot and bolt in a bracket in the very back then race around and jump into the front and bolt in another bracket at the very tip of the car. By the first break at 9:30am, I had worked two and a half hours and I was soaked to the skin with sweat.  Every joint in my body ached.  I gave all this all of two minutes consideration while I was sucking down a Coke and came to this conclusion: 'Nah, this isn't me.'

So I left.

Life is a game of mistakes.  If you're not making some mistakes along the line then you're not pushing yourself.  You're not expanding your comfort zone.  And as there is no such thing as standing still you are actually going backwards.  And besides if you don't take some chances in life you'll never ever know if working on an assembly line is your mission in life.

 For me the obstacle course has always been much more fun than the primrose path. I've always chosen very high risk jobs with little guarantee of stability... coaching, media (newspapers, radio and television) and acting... at every turn in those high profile positions you can get bumped off the career path for the silliest of reasons, but wow they're all exciting and thrilling and I love my experience in them.  I've learned to hustle. It's about your attitude, and not selling yourself short.

Don't worry about whether you have the talent, brains or ability, just get out there and ask for your opportunity. You'll be surprised how smart you turn out to be.

* John Dybvig's autobiography 'The Two of Me' (Hurricane Press) is available now.

- NZ Herald

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