When I was a kid, more than anything else, I wanted to be a park ranger. Our family vacations to the national parks made me fall in love with the idea. I imagined living in Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, hiking and camping in the most beautiful and amazing places in the country every single day — and wearing that cool uniform and hat.
My career fantasies shifted to music when I started playing bass guitar in the eighth grade. My big break came when the bass player in the high school jazz band graduated, and I took his place. After achieving the status of “cool jazz band dude,” I got the crazy idea that I could make it as a musician. Without any real thoughtful consideration or guidance, I auditioned for the music program at a small liberal arts college and got in. Just to play it safe, I majored in music business. By the middle of my freshman year, I was simply a business major.
I chose marketing as my concentration because I thought it would be easier than accounting, finance or economics. Once again, I didn’t seek out or receive any meaningful guidance. My choices were made partly out of fear of failure and partly from a lack of ambition or, really, vision. After graduation, I was in sales only long enough to realize that I had no business being in sales. But I didn’t know what else to try.
My second (and last) sales job was with a small plastics manufacturer selling component parts to original equipment manufacturers. This was my first exposure to manufacturing, and I was hooked! I loved seeing how things get made; how machines take raw materials and turn them into stuff. I had discovered a whole new world.
This epiphany first led to me running a warehouse for a small local retail chain and then getting a job as materials manager for a small manufacturer. This was where I started to learn the ropes — production scheduling, inventory management and purchasing. It was a small enough company that I was involved in pretty much every aspect of what I learned was called “supply chain.”
I was just figuring things out when someone handed me a copy of APICS magazine. Thumbing through the issue, I learned of an upcoming class on master planning. This lucky accident not only launched my career in supply chain but also my continuing work as an APICS chapter leader and instructor. I had finally found my calling! I also found my confidence, ambition and vision for a real career. As I reflect on my experience, I see several valuable lessons learned:
1. Seek out good advice. From picking a major to creating a vision for my future, I would have benefited immensely from better guidance as a student and young professional. It was not until much later that I became very deliberate and diligent in my professional development and career planning. Being involved with my APICS chapter, building and maintaining a sizeable professional network, and engaging formally with a trusted mentor exposes me to new insights that challenge my thinking about my profession and my career.
2. Take risks. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. You never know until you try. And when you do try, give it everything you’ve got.
3. Be open to happy accidents. What you think you want may not be what you truly desire. I had no idea what supply chain was, but, when I fell into it, there was no doubt that it was the place for me.
4. Don’t give up on your dreams. Even if your greatest dream doesn’t turn into a career, it can still become a passionate hobby. I never made it as a professional musician, but I played in local rock bands for many years. And I often share my love of camping, hiking and the outdoors with my children. Sometimes I still dream about being a park ranger, but I love what I do. And I’m good at it.