Posted on November 29, 2011 by Colin

A Righter Way

Professions, like relationships, change over time.

Sometimes the changes are small — perhaps a move to a different department within the same company, or moving up the corporate ladder from Junior Whatever to Senior Whatever — and sometimes they are much larger, representing a fundamental shift in what you focus your attention on, and how your lifestyle and brain function.

I know this perhaps more than most people my age, as I’ve jumped from field-to-field without hesitation repeatedly in my 26 years; essentially whenever I felt the need, or started to feel constrained by the tools I had at my disposal.

Not counting one-off, career-non-specific jobs (like waiting tables and working at a bookstore), I started my professional career as a journalist, writing articles and columns for my school and local newspaper between attending classes. From there I segued into design work, while on the side I sold a few paintings (a budding career that never quite blossomed).

My design work forked off into the diverse paths of illustration and web development, the latter leading me to learn HTML, CSS and PHP, and eventually to take a job where I learned all about broadcast design and production, while the former had me designing t-shirts for a few different clothing companies.

The arsenal of skills I had built up (writing, design, illustration, development and production), along with a penchant for sociology and psychology, led me to branding, which in turn rekindled a previously dabbled-in interest for entrepreneurship.

My writing skills were once again resurrected when I started blogging (about entrepreneurship, initially), and eventually led to the lifestyle that I live now, where I leverage the branding skills for my entrepreneurial endeavors, blog to build relationships and audiences, and write books based on my travels and what I’ve learned along the way.

This quick (though rambly) summation of my work history is meant to illustrate how various fields of study can lead into and in fact support one another, should you choose to view them all as pieces of the same puzzle, rather than radically different pursuits, completely removed from each other.

Many of the most interesting people I’ve met are folks who have made some kind of radical transition, leading them to bring ideas and lessons from their previous craft into their new one, or people who are curious about everything, leading them to jump around from career path to career path willy-nilly, happily gobbling up whatever info and skill sets they can before moving on to something else.

We’re often told that in order to be truly great at something, we must specialize in it. We must invest 10,000 hours of study into that craft, or go to school for four to twelve years in order to master it.

Which is generally true, of course, but what if we spent 5,000 hours each on video game development and horticulture?

Or went to school to dual-major in architecture and electrical engineering, with a minor in food science?

Imagine the revelations that would emerge from someone capable of seeing the world (and solving problems from) such diverse perspectives!

I, for one, feel like the meandering career path I’ve taken has given me an advantage in each and every field that I’ve tried my hand at.

I’m able to approach writing from the standpoint of an entrepreneur, coming up with new business models that an author without that experience wouldn’t be as likely to develop. I’m able to approach entrepreneurship from the standpoint of a creative, building brands along with business models for optimal compatibility.

At the moment, I’m teaching myself to develop in Python (which is a behind-the-scenes language, compared to the more front-end dialects I’ve worked with before), and with every new bit of syntax and structure that I learn, I can’t help but think “Ah, I wonder how I’ll be able to use THAT in some unexpected way! Maybe this will help me publish, and that will help me manage brand resources…”

Consider doing the same. Or at least imagine what it would be like to leverage your current (no doubt epic) skills in another playground.

Think about some field that you’d like to learn more about and then browse the web for tutorials or pick up a book on the subject.

Try your hand at it and don’t be afraid to do things ‘the wrong way.’ Although it’s good to know the rules of a craft, with your unique standpoint and ignorance of convention, you may be able to come up with an even righter way.