Be Unrealistic — Obama’s Lesson for Career Changers

November 6th, 2008

Whether you’re an exultant Obama supporter or a disappointed McCainiac, the results of Tuesday’s election should be encouraging in at least one way. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States clearly demonstrates that no brazen career goal is unrealistic if you are willing to work your butt off and never give up.

I can only imagine how many times Barack Obama was told to give up on his “unrealistic” presidential goals. After all, it was clearly a tremendous long shot.  U.S. voters weren’t ready to elect an African-American candidate as President (remember the Bradley effect). Besides, Obama was inexperienced. And what about that middle name “Hussein”?

I will leave the in-depth analysis of Obama’s win to the eight zillion pundits and political bloggers who have been living and breathing the election for months. Obviously, Obama is a symbol of hope in many ways for many people.

However, as a passionate advocate for those seeking meaningful and fulfilling work, I want to point out that he is also a perfect example of someone who followed his passion and triumphed in spite of significant obstacles.

Barack Obama never escaped from Corporate America. But he has made many courageous and non-traditional career choices — all of which helped guide him to the White House.  He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School and took a job as a community organizer. “Community organizer” was certainly not the most lucrative or prestigious choice to make (just ask Sarah Palin). Obama could have easily opted for a more traditional path and accepted a position at a law firm or as a corporate attorney. I’m sure many wise people advised him that he would never make any money as a community organizer.

But Obama followed his principles and his passions. They led him to the Illinois Senate, and then to the U.S. Senate (after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives). And now, he’s preparing to move his family and new puppy into the White House. Oh yeah, and  along the way, he also became a bestselling author (so much for those predictions that he’d never make any money).

So what is Obama’s lesson for career changers? Don’t let anybody tell you that your dream is impossible or unrealistic. Your goal may very well be a long shot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it. It may take a lot of hard work and some temporary sacrifices and discomfort, but so what? Nothing worth achieving is easy.

A tough economy doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams and settle. It just means that you’ll have to be smarter and more resourceful to get what you want. You’ll have to be patient if it takes a little bit longer before you can quit that day job and pursue your dream full-time. But don’t wait to start your planning and take your first steps.

Barack Obama didn’t wait around for racism to go away or for someone to ask him to step up. He went after what he wanted with every bit of energy and passion that he could summon. And now he’s the President-Elect of the United States of America.

So what are the obstacles on the path to your career dream? What can you do to overcome them? What would Barack Hussein Obama do? You really can achieve any goal if you’re willing to devote the same energy and passion to them that Obama devoted to his campaign. You can do it. Yes, you can.

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Actually, Obama did “escape” from Corporate America. We both worked at Business International Corp (now owned by the Economist), our first jobs out of college. I guess during that year he discovered that sitting behind a desk was not for him. There are other articles on this topic, but here’s one:


Not only did Barack escape corporate America, but Michelle did too. She used to work at a mega-law firm.

Pamela Skillings

I didn’t realize that Barack did a stint in Corporate America! Thanks for sharing the article. How weird it must be that the President-Elect is the guy that you used to sit next to at your first job.

I had read that Michelle walked away from a partner-track law firm career. She is an impressive success story in her own right.

Of course, despite escaping from Corporate America, they will both be dealing with plenty of bureaucracy in their new careers! Let’s just hope that they can cut through all of that red tape and achieve the change the country is hoping for.

Jeff Fritzpee

Ah yes, worked really hard. Somehow “workin’ really hard” seems to jell with our primal ideas about hunting and gathering. Only through some idea of stress and strain do we dole out extra portions.
Truth is you can be hugely successful, get a restful nice sleep each night and have a very comfortable time of it.

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