Our society loves a prodigy story.
We celebrate children who show a musical talent about the time they learn to read then dedicate themselves to developing that natural aptitude — it could be Mozart or Little Stevie Wonder going strong at 65, minus the Little.
We love young athletes who obsessively spend nights, weekends and summer camps pursuing an early talent, like Venus Williams.
We glorify kids who knew with absolute certainty what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives, then doggedly, stubbornly followed that dream. Steve Jobs was fascinated with computers by puberty.
But what of everyone else? That’s so limiting.
What if you weren’t aware of a career choice possibility until later in life?
What if a career didn’t even exist when you were young but now it’s a perfect fit for you?
What if your interests changed as you got older?
Writer and artist Emilie Wapnick gave a TED talk about feeling like there was something wrong with her because she would fall in love with something for a while, then get bored and move on to a new passion.
This pattern caused me a lot of anxiety, for two reasons. The first was that I wasn’t sure how I was going to turn any of this into a career. I thought that I would eventually have to pick one thing, deny all of my other passions, and just resign myself to being bored. The other reason it caused me so much anxiety was a little bit more personal. I worried that there was something wrong with this, and something wrong with me for being unable to stick with anything. I worried that I was afraid of commitment, or that I was scattered, or that I was self-sabotaging, afraid of my own success.
If you can relate to my story and to these feelings, I’d like you to ask yourself a question that I wish I had asked myself back then. Ask yourself where you learned to assign the meaning of wrong or abnormal to doing many things. I’ll tell you where you learned it: you learned it from the culture.
If you’re a career serial monogamist, moving from one seemingly unrelated field to another, or you’re a hyphenate, simultaneously doing two more more things that appear disconnected, you might want to settle in for 13 minutes and watch.
You’ll hear Wapnick say that you’re not a quitter or flaky or waiting for your real passion to show itself. Instead, if you’re a polymath or Renaissance man, you bring three superpowers to your multiple interests.
- Idea synthesis. You can draw inspiration from multiple areas, so you might bring best practices from another industry or you might see how two fields of interest click together.
- Rapid learning. There’s a Buddhist idea called beginner’s mind, where you open yourself up to not knowing, to not making assumptions, and let go of being an expert. Experience being a beginner can teach you how to start learning. Plus you bring your wealth of life experience to that learning.
- Adaptability. The economy is changing, technology is fast moving, so the ability to adapt makes you more valuable than someone who fears change.
For many years I’ve heard that statistic that people my age and younger will change careers seven times in our lives. Yet I’ve still worried that there was something wrong with me when I’d get bored with a job after a few years. I crave new challenges.
Now as a marketing consultant (a job I’d never heard of until after college, by the way), I see how my diverse interests help me serve my clients. Sometimes I draw from something I learned organizing events as an alumni club president, sometimes it’s something I’ve learned writing this blog, other times it’s insight gained working with a client in a different industry. I have more tools in my belt because of my personal and professional diversity.
So if you’ve felt stressed trying to find one true passion, like finding a career is swans mating for life, maybe it’s time to give yourself the OK to date around.