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.

13 comments

  1. This is a very ancient greek and renessance idea. For those cultures, it was important that a man (it was generally men back then) had a well-rounded life of politics, philosophy, sports and whatever trade they had.

    The idea that you only have time in your life to do one thing is crazy. You just need to look at daVinci’s many varied accomplished to counter that.

    • @TheModernNomad Agreed. That’s where the idea of the university (which shares an etymological root with “universe”) came from. We are supposed to go to university to study, well, everything.Venn diagram time: This horizontal pursuit of different skills and interests eventually leads to a kind of specialization. If you picture all your various skill sets, the point at which they all overlap represents your own unique talent. If you can find that overlap point, then you have a truly special talent to share with the world.

  2. Absolutely, making connections and having a variety of experiences and skills to draw on helps. So often we’re told to find that One Thing and do it really well. Rarely are we told that learning how to do 10 things well means we can really do 87 other things, if we add all our existing skills.

  3. My mom has a degree in French and English, first working as a French and English high school teacher. She was then recruited by the FBI for her language skills, and spent seven years as a special agent, before moving into corporate security in Silicon Valley, and then working as a successful real estate agent and then opening her own property management firm when I was born. She’s always been a great inspiration for me in terms of not being stuck in any one career–you can totally take what you’ve learned and apply it somewhere new and exciting!

  4. Refreshing read this. As someone often flitting from one apparent career path to the next it’s food for thought that there is always some way to tie it all in.

    What made you choose Python Colin? I’m interested as to why you never continued your studies in human languages?

    • @myspanishadv I’ve actually always wanted to dig deeper into programming (my experience so far has been limited to HTML/CSS/PHP), but never made the time. The strange thing is that it took me until now to stop and realize that I HAVE the time, I just haven’t been taking advantage of that fact.

      As for why Python in particular, I’ve been told by several people I respect that it’s a great place to start and a great foundation (as well as a powerful language by itself). So far I’ve really enjoyed working with it, though I still have a long way to go before I’m anywhere near fluent with it.

      As for spoken-language work, it’s something I plan on continuing in the future, but I’ve found that in many of the places I’ve been traveling to recently, people tend to want to speak English more than the local tongue, so I’d be better off setting aside time for that kind of project separately, methinks, rather than intensely trying to focus on it and then being disappointed when no one would practice with me.

  5. Hi Colin,

    I can definitely relate to this. At the end of this year, I am quitting my job in commercial property development and moving into freelance writing and internet marketing. A complete change of direction.

    Having said that, there is no doubt that I can draw a lot from my prior experience. Business is business, after all. Things you do in life are often underpinned by fundamentals that translate across many different platforms.

    Cheers,

    Tom

  6. I have an enjoyable read in this blog. Very informative and I wish I can have a little of your strong will… Sometimes I am afraid to gamble of loosing my current job to give favor with by blogs.

  7. I think a lot of people our age are moving towards this direction (I’m 24). We know that years in school and 10,000 hours toiling away at some super-focused objective will in fact work out, but, who the hell wants to do that?

    I have a degree in exercise physiology, but after working as a trainer and a fitness consultant for four years, I was sick of being on other people’s time. I too have a love for writing and decided to start a content writing service for non-native English speakers for their websites, marketing collateral, etc (live in Miami so plenty of customers!) and now I own my life, not someone else.

    If you’re not adaptable, skilled in many facets, you won’t be able to survive in our current economy. Jack of all trades, master of none baby!

  8. Thanks for this informative post here, this gives a good insight to those who can’t decide yet.

  9. This post really inspires me and I am looking forward to share this to my fiends and families too…

  10. This insight resonates with me. I am currently in a transition in my career and life and realize that my varied list of skills and life experiences is truly unique and will be able to help me in the future.

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