We talk often on this blog about the quest to find work that is personally meaningful, much more that just a paycheck, and ultimately a job that is THE job — the one you’d prefer to have over any other. It’s the Holy Grail of employment: dreamy and glorious, but nearly impossible to find.
But there are those rare few who have found it. The ones who say “I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else” with a straight face and true conviction.
In the first of a semi-regular series, I’m going to interview some of these rare individuals who genuinely love their jobs to find out…well, how did they do it? What was their career path to get there? And what advice do they have for the rest of us?
By talking to the people who have found work that is both personally and professionally fulfilling, as well as financially feasible (no trust fund babies here, thank you), we can learn from their experiences and gather additional courage to keep going until we find it ourselves. If nothing else, it’s confirmation that the Holy Grail of the dream job exists.
In my first interview, I talk to Doug Pfeister, the senior vice-president and New Jersey project director at Bluewater Wind, an offshore wind energy developer. After almost 15 years, Doug says he has finally found “the best job I’ve ever had.”
I Love My Job: Interview with Doug Pfeister, Senior VP & New Jersey Project Director at Bluewater Wind
When I thought about doing this series of interviews with people who love their jobs, Doug came to mind immediately. His job isn’t just professionally and personally fulfilling, but the work itself is meaningful. Doug’s company, Bluewater Wind, is a renewable energy developer focused on building wind(mill) farms offshore in the Atlantic Ocean to generate clean energy. Doug spoke to me from his office in Hoboken, New Jersey in April 2007.
Q: So to get things started, what exactly do you do there?
I’m involved in all aspects of project development. We try to find sites where we can build offshore wind farms and I’m one of those responsible for moving projects along. I hire and work with meteorologists, oceanographers and geologists to study the sites, as well as environmental engineers to study the environmental impacts, including marine life, avian life, etc. I also study the politics on the state and federal level and work with our government contacts on renewable energy legislation and regulations that affect us.
Q: Give me a brief picture of what you did prior to this job.
I had a number of jobs in the environmental and energy fields for more than 10 years, and got a graduate degree in environmental management in 2000. I basically meandered through the environmental field trying different areas, and felt that energy was one of the most interesting and most pressing issues. So I focused on energy companies after grad school and worked at GE, Trigen and an environmental consulting company that did a lot of energy efficiency work.
It gave me a good broad base of knowledge over the past five years, and now I’m finally working for the kind of company I have wanted to work for.
Q: So you’ve told me in the past this is a job you really enjoy. Still true?
Hands down this is the greatest job I’ve ever had. It’s kind of a capstone job – allowing me to use all the skills I’ve learned. I’ve always wanted to make an impact, and this is a job that I really believe we can make an impact. It’s cutting edge, and I work with great people.
Q: You didn’t start out in the environmental field, right?
As an undergrad I studied economics and international relations and went out to D.C. for work after gradation. But I was disillusioned by D.C. and all the wrangling for positions in the various agencies and administration — it was all about connections and who you know. And the work that I found was all sort of abstract and I wanted to do something more concrete.
I had an epiphany actually one day about it. I was walking along the Potomac in Georgetown, and saw a plaque that talked about the early settlers in the area and how they were awed by the beauty of the spot. And then I looked up — and it was hideous. There was this big highway, a bridge, concrete, all overdeveloped. I couldn’t even see the ground or where I was in relation to the ground. I had this moment of clarity and that’s when I took a turn and started to get involved in environmental issues.
Q: So what did you do at that point?
I got a job with the Parks Department in New York City and was there for four years. I headed up the Green Streets program where we created green spaces throughout the city, and on the Street Trees program where we planted 17,000 street trees a year. But I felt that I wanted to make a bigger impact, especially around industrial issues. But I knew I needed more of an academic foundation that I didn’t get as an undergrad studying economics and international relations so that’s why I decided to go to graduate school.
Q: I know it took time before you found the job at Bluewater, and you were working for yourself for awhile.
Yes, after leaving the (energy efficiency) consulting job, I really wanted to make a change and look for a different kind of job — in renewable energy. But I needed to learn how to market myself and learn more about the issues and industry. I spent 18 months doing research and networking, and did contract work in the field. I even paid for conferences out of my own pocket just to learn.
On the side to make ends meet, I was tutoring high school kids. It paid well and didn’t take a lot of time so I’d recommend that if you’re in a market like New York City. It helped to basically fund my job search and learning. Then I got a couple of contracts with wind developers helping them with their projects, and came across the president of Bluewater Wind who’s now my boss. I started out as a contractor, and then he offered me a job.
Q: What would be your advice to someone who’s looking for their dream job?
You have to do some soul searching. Sit down in a quiet room in the dark and ask yourself what you really want to do, think about it really hard. “Can I do that?” “Does my background allow me to reach that goal? If not, what can I do to allow me to do it?”
When I thought I really wanted to be a renewable energy developer, I thought, “Ok, I’m 60% there…how do I get the other 20-30% more so someone will take a chance on me?” I needed to learn about the industry, make contacts, go to conferences. Just do something every day. Write an email. Do some research. And believe it.
Q: Any other recommendations?
I used to visit wind developer websites and look at job postings. You can compare the desired qualifications with your resume. Are you close? I thought to myself, “I’m not that far away” and it gave me a direction to go in for more learning, experience, etc.
Also, when you’re in school or writing/creating anything, you have to be your own toughest critic. You have to take a hard look at yourself. “Would I hire me? Where are the gaps?” Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is making the hiring decision and see what you see as areas of weakness, where you can do better.
My sincere thanks to Doug for sharing his experience and advice.
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