When I met my friend Andy on the first day of kindergarten he was drawing fire trucks. He always had a drawing of a fire truck in process. By the time we were in fifth grade his detailed pen-and-ink illustrations were being used as notecards and calendar art for fire departments countywide. I always figured he wanted to be an artist. We drifted apart in high school. It wasn’t until my mom sent me his obituary that I realized he didn’t want to be an artist, he wanted to be a firefighter. Andy died on September 11, 2001, working as a New York City firefighter. He was 40 years old and had been a firefighter for 21 years.

Andy’s death, as well as those of all the other folks who died on or as a result of September 11, is nothing but heartbreaking. Even so, I’m left feeling pretty good about Andy. He was able to bring to reality his lifelong dream. He led an intentional life. That’s an amazing and wonderful thing.

I’ve been thinking of Andy quite a bit these past 20 years. Like Andy, I too was able to turn a passion into an occupation. Unlike Andy, I didn’t know it when I was 5. My path appeared when I turned 20. Yours might not show until you’re 60. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful in creating an occupation driven by interests. The biggest thing is: Don’t be afraid. Easy to say, hard to pull off. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you ask questions, listen to the reply. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is way underrated. I promise you, you will fail many times. The trick is to accept that and not let it defeat your enthusiasm or diminish your drive. Be open to possibilities. Accept any information coming your way – be it the newspaper, a story a friend is telling, a song on the radio – as an opportunity to learn something. Once you start seeing opportunities, you see more opportunities. In all likelihood you’re searching for something you don’t know exists. If you knew it existed you wouldn’t need to search, so stay open to new information, or information that may shed new light on things you already know. Have faith in yourself. Belief is a powerful ally. If you’re considering a career in building, what aspect of building interests you? Every bit of every building you have ever been in, someone made. The someone who made it, be it the stairway, the light fixtures, the window trim, the doors, the cabinets, the tile work, the building design, at some point they had less skill than you do right now. They learned how to do it, and so can you.