In the past three days, I got the same question from readers in three different age groups. Reader #1 is a recent college graduate. Reader #2 got his MBA four years ago. Reader #3 is a mid-career professional in his early forties.
All of them asked me the same question: I’m interested in a lot of different things, but I just couldn’t find the one thing I’m truly passionate about. What should I do about my career?
I can totally related to these readers because I was in the exactly same boat a few years ago. I’m interested in a lot of different things. I studied computer science and liked certain aspects of it such as artificial intelligence. I have a strong interest in business and entrepreneurship. I’ve been a news junkie since I was a kid and aspired to be a journalist. I like to write, read, and teach. I’ve also become very interested in online advertising in the last couple of years. I guess I can call myself "multi-disciplinary", or "jack of all trade, master of none". đź™‚
However, I couldn’t pinpoint one career that would make me feel fulfilled, and make good money.
I started searching for an answer. I read a lot of books. I sought wisdom from wiser and more experienced friends and colleagues. I did a lot of introspection. I tried to work for different companies. I went to graduate school. Today I feel much more comfortable with myself, and my career goals.
Below are the lessons I’ve learned. Hope these lesson might be helpful to you on your journey to find your "perfect" career.
- I’ve tried too hard to find the one perfect career. Since I’m interested in a lot of things, it’s likely that I won’t be able to find fulfillment from just one career. What I need is a combination of two or three careers in order to satisfy my curiosities and make me feel fulfilled. If you feel stuck about what you want to do next, don’t beat yourself too hard. It’s OKAY that you’re not totally focused. For some people, you might need a combination of several careers to make you feel fulfilled.
- My interdisciplinary nature is a strength. And I need to leverage this strength. There is a big "aha" moment after I finished reading Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger by Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger is Warren Buffet’s sidekick, a legendary investor in his own right, and a member of Forbe 500 Richest American billionaires. In the book, Charlie talked about the importance to acquire mental models from multiple disciplines, and then apply these models to solve problems. He was very critical of our education system, which puts students in a narrow path and does not give them the cross-disciplinary education. This made me realize what a big advantage I have by being multi-disciplinary — I’ve been exposed to different mental models from several disciplines. It’s up to me to take advantage of the mental models, analyze problems from the different perspectives, and gain insights that others might not have.
- New technologies and tools have enable us to work remotely/virtually. This has made it easier for us to pursue several careers at the same time. In the book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success, the author profiled a number of "career slashers" who have pursued multiple careers. The case studies are very inspiring — it shows that it’s possible for one person to pursue multiple careers.
- Take action and experiment. I made a list of careers that I’m interested. I picked one, and tried it out. It didn’t work out. I moved onto the next one. Sometimes you just have to try them out before you find out what you want. It could be painful — for example, in my case, I tried to move to a different area, but found out I didn’t like it a few months later. I switched jobs three times in three years, and that didn’t look very good on my resume. But, I know that I was doing that right thing — I learned from each experience, and I knew I didn’t enjoy it. Although they’re not resume builder, I was learning from "mistake". That learning is much more valuable than building resume. A few years ago, I was still able to get into a top business school, and my career has progressed well.
- Establish your own inner scorecard. Don’t let other’s expectation to define who you’re and what you want to do in your life. I cannot say enough about the importance of this point — we all have expectation from our parents, peers, colleagues, etc. But, their needs, wants, and expectations are not yours. In term of figuring out what you want to do with your life and career, you need to be selfish in a way — it’s about your talent, your passion, and your life. You need to be selfish first before you can become selfless — excuse me if I’m being too philosophical here. But, once you can really align your talent, passion and career, you’ll be able to maximize your contribution to the world, which will maximize your "selflessness".
- Find your own role models who are multi-disciplinary. Emulate them. One of the best role models is Benjamin Franklin — he is a highly accomplished printer/publisher, entrepreneur, author, scientist, diplomat, politician, educator, and more. Just imagine if he wanted to fit himself into one career — how much of his talents would have been wasted!
- Read, read, and read. I’ve found reading really helped me to learn from others, to reflect on my own personality and experience, and to gather my thoughts to move forward. I highly recommend the following books:
- Real Life Notes: Reflections and Strategies for Life After Graduation This book is a gem. It was written for college graduate. But, I read it right before I finished MBA school. It’s applicable to anyone who is trying to figure out what to do in life. The author is a former banker. This book is full of wisdom and real world examples. I wish more people have known about this book. Truly a gem!
- Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life. This book is based on the materials from a MBA class at Columbia University — the only class that has its own alumni association. You should do all of the exercises in this book. It’ll make a difference.
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. The quintessential multi-disciplinary role model.
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger: full of wisdom and lessons on acquire and apply mental models across multiple disciplines.
- One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success: excellent case study of people who have pursued multiple careers.