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Fear and Loathing on the Career Path


Hunter S. Thompson was a comet. The Good Doctor was the type of person that you only come across every few decades, the type who burns the earth with originality, passion, and talent. Someone who listens to his heart and does only what he wants. A true one-of-a-kind, a perpetual black sheep. We should all try to be comets.

Anywho, I enjoy Hunter S. Thompson’s particular brand of in-your-face writing. I like seeing people break the rules and succeed. It was a delight to come across a cover letter he wrote to the Vancouver Sun in 1958 and see that he even wrote his job applications in this manner. I think we can learn a lot about careers, the job hunt, and life in general from Hunter S. Thompson.

Forget everything you know about writing cover letters

I’ll never understand why we’re taught to fit in when we’re in school. In college, I was required to take a class devoted to “professional writing,” and we were taught how to create a cookie-cutter cover letter. It’s like they were setting us up to fail. The whole point of a cover letter is to STAND OUT from the mess of equally-qualified people. Hunter S. Thompson understood that. As you can see from his cover letter, he hit all the necessary spots: Who he was, what he expected from the job, what they could expect from him, and that he would like to work for them. That’s it. The rest is up to you. Forget what they taught you and start trying to stand out….it’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this world.

Pioneer new career frontiers

If the world isn’t giving you a viable career option, make one up. Gonzo journalism, a subjective, first-person-narrative form of journalism, didn’t exist before Thompson. He immersed himself in the world of his subjects and walked a mile in their shoes (or rode, as was the case in Hell’s Angels) and ended up creating his career. It is a form of journalism rooted in the idea that the story is more important than getting all the facts right, that true objectivity is a myth. Many bloggers write in that style today, and it’s more entertaining, informative, and trustworthy than most of the so-called “objective news” out there.

The point is this:You don’t have to try to fit into an existing career path. If you have a vision of what you want to do, but it’s different from any career you’ve heard of, make it up. Have enough confidence in yourself to create your own career. Hunter S. Thompson was filled with millennial spirit; our generation has created a lot of jobs where none had previously existed. Mark Zuckerberg created his own frontier with Facebook, and there are many other examples of successful Gen Y entrepreneurs on and off the internet.

Trust Yourself

If there’s any lasting message I can take from Hunter S. Thompson’s life, it’s this: Listen to your inner voice and screw the rules. I can’t stress that enough.  It’s true that you can follow the herd and survive, but to really live you have to figure out how to trust your own ideas. Like he said in his novel “The Rum Diary,”

“Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right.”

It’s not an easy road to take, and you’ll certainly have your enemies because of it, but it’s the only way to live.

Obviously, Hunter S. isn’t the best role model. He did a ton of drugs and was by all accounts an asshole, and in the end he took his own life. You could live for a hundred lifetimes and still not be as much of a badass as this guy was. But you can learn a lot from people who truly listen to their inner voice and have reckless disregard for social norms. Trust your instincts, follow your own path, and forget the rules. Be a comet like Hunter S. Thompson.

What do you think: Was Hunter S. Thompson a raving lunatic, visionary, or both?

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