How Many Careers Would You Like?

As children we all hear the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So we grow up, we pick a career and work at it for a while. But then what? Does the choice we made at age 20 bind us until age 65?

For many people that seems to be exactly what happens, and that’s a fine choice if you’ve made it consciously. But there’s no rule that says you have to pick one career and stick with it until you retire. You can enjoy many different careers if you so choose. Many people experience this by accident (such as when they lose a job), but you can also do it by choice.

Sometimes young people are paralyzed when faced with choosing a lifetime career. Picking one thing means denying yourself everything else. What if you have a lot of different interests?

Pick one career and get started. Go into it with the expectation of mastering it, but also feel free to move onto something else when you get bored. A career switch will often give you much more growth than staying in the same line of work for decades.

Consider Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest geniuses of all time (if not THE greatest). His interests included painting, sculpting, engineering, architecture, science, geology, anatomy, flight, optics, gravity, and lots more. This variety of interests served him well because he was able to use his scientific knowledge to improve his art (more realistic and precise artwork) and his art skills to improve his science (detailed drawings and diagrams).

Instead of trying to follow 10 different interests at once though, try to focus on one or two at a time. But keep open the possibility that you can switch down the road. So if you love art and music and medicine but can’t find a way to combine them into a single career, try pursuing one in your 20s and 30s, one in your 40s and 50s, and another in your 60s and 70s.

As you age your priorities will shift. There’s a strong chance that the career you choose at age 20 will be a lot less interesting to you at age 35. Even if you have to take a massive pay cut to do something else, it may be worth it for the experience. The money isn’t going to make you happy anyway if you no longer love what you do.

Let your career become a dynamic experience instead of a static one if that appeals to you. The people around you will probably whine a lot when you switch careers, but don’t let that bother you. There’s no honor in sticking to a path that doesn’t have a heart.