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Careers Café

Instead of trying to satisfy all of your interests with one job, consider compartmentalizing

Investigate ways of flipping the yes/no question for careers of interest to yes/and or no/later.


The combined forces of conventional wisdom and career self-help books sometimes suggest looking at your hobbies and trying to find related careers. A broader view might simply advise you to look at all the things you like to do, and seek out the career that brings the most of them together. Neither is bad advice; choosing career options often is partly a process of looking for convergence. But, if you hate saying no to options, looking for convergence might bring your career exploration to a grinding halt.

Some people (myself included) have a tough time saying yes to one option, precisely because it means saying no to other ones. If you have genuine interests in policy development, business intelligence analysis and bioinformatics, how do you apply the notion of convergence?

Maybe you don’t have to. A concept I come back to, time and again, is that there is no one right career. There is not one lone job title that’s the key to meaningful work for you. You have multiple skills, interests, values and quirks that you could (and likely will) bring to bear in multiple lines of work. So, assuming that you have many “right” options and are likely to change careers along the way, what happens if you give yourself permission to compartmentalize, instead of trying to satisfy everything with one job?

You could take the route of the portfolio career. This one happens to work well for me; I blend part-time teaching with part-time career advising at one organization and freelance career advising when it appeals. I also tell anyone who will listen that I love to write, which occasionally results in a juicy project. The combination is deeply satisfying for me, but it’s not the only option.

You can also think about careers in the longer term, considering what works best for you as a next step, but holding on to the knowledge that you can look for ways to incorporate other interests later on. This approach takes a leap of faith, and is tough to plan. There may not be an obvious chronology from one line of work to the next, and this approach relies on your willingness to express your interests and follow up on unexpected opportunities as well as those you’ve deliberately sought out.

You could, of course, turn the conventional advice about hobbies on its head. Separate work and hobbies! Embrace their division! Go ahead and become a business intelligence analyst, but join your local farmer’s market board of directors and flex your policy muscles a bit. Give yourself permission to read about bioinformatics for pure pleasure, and know that there’s nothing “wasted” about time spent in deeply engaging leisure.

Just as there’s no singular right career, there’s no universal best way to manage multiple interests. If you do like the idea of compartmentalizing interests, chances are you’ll have no shortage of mentors to illuminate the topic. Look to the people you know for examples of the portfolio, career changing and work/hobby division approaches. Ask what made their approach work for them. Ask what they would do differently. Investigate ways of flipping the yes/no question for careers of interest to yes/and or no/later.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. Jennifer Polk / April 12, 2017 at 10:49

    Yes to all of this! To put it another way, there is no “dream job.” No, not even tenure-track professor! That may be one possible great job/career, but there are always others. Always.