Wyatt Wells is co-founder and chief marketing officer at The Bee Corp, an AgTech startup in Bloomington. Wyatt graduated from Indiana University in 2016.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
If you asked me this question 10 years ago, I would’ve replied, “I’m going to play third base for the Boston Red Sox.” If you asked me three years ago, my answer would’ve been, “Let me get back to you on that.”
It’s the cliché question nearly all students dread hearing. Responses tend to fall into three categories: the vague (“I want to work in [medicine/software/sales]”), the naïve and oddly specific (“I’m going to be a senior cloud systems engineer at Facebook”) and the aimless (“I just want to do something that makes me happy”).
Flashback to 2015
Entering my senior year at IU, I belonged under the aimless category. I became an expert at ruling out bad options rather than discovering good ones. I had no interest in pursuing a career relevant to my major: sports marketing and management. I like sports. I like marketing. I like management, but the jobs in this field didn’t excite me. And the more I learned about myself, the more I doubted whether a career in sports would be fulfilling.
I had picked up a minor in law and public policy during my junior year, hoping it would help cast a wider net for job opportunities. I like law (but not enough to consider law school). I like policy. Perhaps I found a good fit? There was only one way of knowing, so when I was offered an internship with the state Senate of Indiana, I jumped at the opportunity.
Though the experience was immensely valuable, I found that political work just wasn’t my thing. I was a little discouraged, but eventually I realized that maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to have a firm idea of what I don’t want to do.
I was reminded of the time I took a summer internship with a small architecture firm in Boston when I was 16. My dad is an architect, and I enjoyed designing gaudy houses in Autodesk Revit. Sounds like a perfect match, right? Dead wrong. It didn’t take more than a week or two for me to see that I could never be an architect.
Ready for a curveball?
The summer after my internship at the senate I took an internship at Hanapin Marketing, a digital marketing agency in Bloomington. Another amazing experience, and the work was a much better fit for me. My supervisor asked me to stay on through the fall. I thought to myself: if I got a job at Hanapin, I wouldn’t be settling. I could see myself working here.
Then a different opportunity came knocking. The beekeeping club I helped get off the ground at school had become something different. Our leadership team entered an IU business competition with an idea to modernize commercial beekeeping. We won a seed investment of $100,000 on the condition that we would commit to working on the company full time after we graduated.
My friends became my business partners. Our club spawned an investor-backed startup. My title changed from student and intern to co-founder and chief marketing officer. I’ll never forget the first thing my father asked me when I told him I wanted to work at The Bee Corp after graduation: “So … are you going to pay yourselves?”
At first, I didn’t know whether to be scared or excited. Scared because I had no idea how to start a company. Excited because I saw an opportunity to continue exploring what jobs I wanted to do when I grew up. I hadn’t yet come to understand that entrepreneurship is basically just a constant stream of fear and excitement.
Entrepreneurship is the ultimate opportunity to experiment with different roles. Here’s a typical week for me: run the financials, manage the hives, oversee data collection for R&D, revisit the product roadmap, delegate projects to our awesome interns, water the office plants and spin the ones and twos as office DJ. On occasion I get to do unique things like speak on panels at conferences, meet with people at the Governor’s office and drum up leads at trade shows.
I never expected I’d grow to enjoy public speaking – it used to terrify me. Now I cherish each opportunity to share my experiences on stage.
Back to the question at hand: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Even today, I don’t really have a candid answer to the burning question above. If anything, I’ve moved from the aimless category to the vague category: “I do entrepreneurship.” But along the way I learned an important lesson: The only way to discover if a career path suits you is by simply trying. Yeah, it seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to recognize that no amount of Googling will give you the same level of understanding as actually going out and doing it.
Want to work in sales? Try selling something. Literally anything. If you find that you’re uncomfortable when it comes to asking people for money, sales might not be for you.
Want to be a programmer? Build a mobile app or a web page. If you hate all the structured work you have to do to get the features to work seamlessly, maybe programming isn’t for you.
I’m very fortunate to have as many opportunities as I did. But it wasn’t all luck. I had to put myself out there and be willing to step out of my comfort zone. I even chopped off eight inches of my unruly hair to signify my attitude shift from aimless to invested.
Here’s my word of advice to those aimless students out there: Get out and try jobs to challenge your assumptions. I guarantee you will come away with a different perspective of what it’s like to work in (insert field here) than when you were on the outside looking in. Don’t be discouraged when your “dream job” turns out to be a total bust. You’ll have another dream tomorrow.