Cup Five

Person: David Murray

drink: small Pluot Green Tea from Caribou Coffee

I knew David Murray from the periphery. I had been in the same room with him on a handful of occasions and followed him on Twitter. I’d heard people mention his name and possibly introduced myself at some point, but we had never really met. I attended an event he co-chaired in Detroit that brought together a variety of innovative people to talk technology and reenergize Detroit. Inspired by his efforts to build a better community, I decided to what time to sit down and officially meet. I was going to be near Detroit for a day, so we set up a meeting.

By one o’clock in the afternoon the day of our meeting, I had already had more coffee than a girl needs in one day and David doesn’t drink much coffee so we both opted for iced tea. This means we technically did not have a cup of coffee, but we were in a coffee shop and I’m making the rules here, so it still counts.

The two weeks before our meeting, I’d been mulling over the idea of passion. What am I passionate about? How do I create a career around that passion? These are the two toughest questions I’ve had to answer since I’ve been in college—harder than all the awful final exams I spent countless hours studying for over the past three years—combined. I’ve had professors explain how to use a Tukey Test to calculate the mean for statistical research and say “where is the record store?” in Spanish, but I haven’t come across Major Life Decision Making 101.   

I decided to ask David because I knew he understands passion. He voluntarily devotes his time and energy to starting projects in Detroit. Not, I-think-I’ll-rebuild-the-engine-on-my-old-Chevy projects, but rather, Lets-attract-people-from-across-Michigan-to-a-two-day-conference-on-innovation-and-technology-AND-bring-in-big-name-speakers-while-we’re-at-it projects. Projects of that magnitude require huge amounts of passion, which meant David likely had an insight or two about the topic.

I found out he had more than just an insight or two. Throughout our conversation, he offered one piece of advice after another—and in such a straightforward way. In the middle of a response or story he would stop, hit the table as if he was making a bullet point, and say, “Here’s something to takeaway.” Then he would explain a concept or habit that had greatly helped him. Almost like a thoughtful professor pointing out the points in the lecture that will be on the test. I took mental notes—the test of life is one I’d like to pass.

Here are a few of those points translated into my own words. 

Point 1: When it comes to job searching, here’s the deal: your resume is not important. Okay, it’s important—but it’s really not important. What you learned in college: it’s important, but really not that important. You can’t let those things define you and the success of your career. Decide what you want to do and go do it. Pick up a book and learn something, ignore the fear stopping you, be willing to try something new—those skills will take you farther than a good GPA. And along the way, pick up “badges.” Think Foursquare or Girl Scouts. Speaking at a conference is a badge. Organizing a 5k fundraiser is a badge. Completing a research project at your internship is a badge. Failing—if you learn from the experience—can be a badge too. Then use those badges to show people what you’re capable of doing.

Point 2: Build a foundation. David talks a lot about working to help the greater good. He said he has always tried to make the place he was living better, which leads to the second take away—decide on you principles to live by. Then let those principles be the foundation for your life—just as cement is the foundation for a house. A contractor wouldn’t start building the first floor without a foundation firmly in place, and David helped me realize I shouldn’t build a career without first knowing my core principles.

Once you’ve got the foundation, you build life experiences on top of it. My first job in the “real world” will be the first floor of my house and as I advance through life I can build upon the previous levels. At one point, I might decide I’m not happy with a level or addition I’ve built. That’s fine, I can renovate or demolish and rebuild—but the foundation won’t change. It is always there providing support and direction for my life.

Point 3: The final point I’ll share is one I’ve believed for a long time. David said 90% of happiness is surrounding yourself with the right people. David can thrive because the people in his life—from his wife and family to his coworkers and friends—inspire him, support him, and love him. That’s 90% of the battle. The remaining 10% is making enough money to put food on the table and a roof over your head with enough left over to buy the things you need. Combine that with a career based on solid principles that align with your passion and contribute to the greater good and you’ll be alright in life.

If the course Major Life Decision Making 101 did exist, the hour I spent with David would have made for a great lecture. I realized that it’s not about what you do but how you do it that really matters. Our conversation wasn’t about how to find a job, it was about how to live your life. As I begin my post-college job search, I’m going to focus less on job descriptions and company profiles. Instead, I’m going to focus my attention inward. What are the core principles in my life? What do I love to do? How can I contribute to the world? Then find a job that aligns with those answer. I’m going to build the foundation before the house.

Our conversation also helped me see the job search within a context of the bigger picture. When David receives praise and attention for his efforts, he is quick to point out and praise others that are working equally hard to making a difference. He’s not in it for fame and attention—he’s in it for the community and the greater good. That’s a powerful characteristic to have and one that resonated with me.

The job search easily becomes about a quest for I. Where can I get the most money, where can I get the best benefits, where can I shine. The job market is tough—you have to be looking of for yourself—but David showed me the power of turning that mindset around. Yes, it is my job, my career, my life, but instead of searching for the job that creates the biggest impact on me, why not find a job where I can have an impact on others—where I can contribute to the greater good.

I greatly appreciate the cup of coffee iced tea I had with David. It looks like I have some homework to do between now and graduation.