door.canstockphoto4817568“When the door cracks open, kick it in.”

Whether you’re just starting out or pursuing your fifth, tenth, or fifteenth job, that’s a good rule of thumb. I heard that comment at a conference put on by the Association of Health Care Journalists this spring.

At the session, which was on freelancing, writer David Dobbs described some of his early faux pas. After getting his first job after college, he made a mistake when he followed a rule: You don’t break promises. And he had promised to stay at his job at the Better Business Bureau at least a year.

He knew he wanted to be a writer, but that meant he didn’t go interview at Rolling Stone, although he was invited to. Later, apparently his typing skills were far from stellar. At a time when joining the “typing pool” was one way to get a foot in the door at the New Yorker, he failed the typing test. You would think he might have learned a lesson. But no. He later failed a typing test at Esquire.

He spent years waiting tables and working on fiction. Only after writing a New York Times magazine feature on autopsy did it feel like someone had waved a wand over him. After that, it got easier to spot opportunities. Clearly, writing such a high profile piece can be a door opener. Now he writes longer form features for places like Slate,, and The National Geographic and is working on a book about the genetic and cultural roots of temperament.

Getting to where he is wasn’t easy. But it’s possible it might have been easier, had he pushed in the doors that swung open for him early on.

Lest you think this a cautionary tale, fear not. The flip side of this suggests there are multiple ways of getting to your destination or reaching your goals. In Dobbs’s case,
the path may have had more twists and turns and been more interesting (or scary) than if he’d gotten one of those cushy entry-level magazine jobs early on.

So what’s the takeaway? There is usually more than one way to get to where you’re going. Don’t let anyone convince you that there’s only one correct way to find the work you love.

Photo: Auris @ Canstockphoto.