Let’s rephrase this question, “What do you want to be?” into “What are the many things you want to be?”
We are privileged to live in a time where reinvention is a necessity. When we reflect on our fast-changing world, it goes beyond the insane speed with which technology is taking over our lives; rather, it is just as clear when it comes to the growing malleability of human aspirations.
People don’t want to become one thing, they want to become many things. The time will come when we will need to embrace that plurality despite the doubt, the uncertainty, and the risk that we associate with it. We laugh about the infamous “Jack of all trades master of none” which we use as a polite moniker for incompetence. But I honestly believe that more and more, we will need to assign bigger value to the wildcards of the world.
Over the past two years, I felt overly apologetic about my transition away from my 13-year corporate track. Being a newbie is as exciting as it is intimidating. Admittedly, in a world where experience is almost always knighted with superiority, being new can make your stature seem smaller and your self-outlook insecure.
But why do we easily label inexperience as a disadvantage? Our world is expanding and it is providing more wiggle room for people to shift gears and pursue something else. College degrees are becoming mere placeholders as people choose to deviate from a linear path. In other cases, the detour is incidental. The standard deviation, overall, is higher than we all expect it to be.
Let’s fix our gazes at a banker turned chef, a nurse turned professional athlete, a housewife turned toy engineer, an accountant turned interior designer, a soldier turned legislator, a video gamer turned business tycoon… The list goes on. My personal favorite is Fred Rogers: pastor turned puppeteer, storyteller and children influencer.
Is it not true that a big number of successful startups come from non-entrepreneurs or “accidental” entrepreneurs? At one point (or several), their transitions must have been discomfiting, to say the least. Change, after all, always comes with a price.
I am here saying that we welcome transitions and career changes; deepen our acceptance of people who want to be more than what they do. Multiple interests and careers are increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception.
When I would see forms where I needed to write down my profession in a singular blank space, a moment of discernment would dawn upon me: do I write executive, marketer, teacher, writer, editor, consultant, data analyst, student, or what? I would always choose one, and oddly feel like I cheated.
I have loved doing these roles and not one role would monopolize my life from all other roles. I taught college students for six years while I was working as a marketer who had to rise to the demands of ever-expanding roles by also managing operations, customer loyalty, partner engagement, branding, advertising, data analysis, and then some. I often craved to be needed for writing and editing and would feel unfulfilled when I wasn’t writing enough.
My husband has been in the same profession for over 16 years and unlike me, has only ever needed two seconds to write down what he does. While I admire, and many times envy, the level of expertise and familiarity he’s reached from doing what he does, I know that he values the breadth of experience and life skills (not excluding some very humbling stories) that I bring into the class and in my one-on-one interactions with struggling students.
Our options for who and what we can become have ceased to be narrow, singular, and predictable. When asked about who we are and what we do, I think these are complicated questions. Wouldn’t you agree that our narrative is fluid and our stories are never done?
I am also here saying that inexperience can be a landmine. Collaborating with an inexperienced but motivated newbie provides the opportunity for mentoring, for rediscovery, for growth. The person who wants to be more than one thing will be climbing a steep and unfriendly terrain but will go through rebirth…possibly reaping the rewards of risks well taken. That person is on a courageous path of daring and failing forward, a necessary undertaking as our future does evolve every day.
I used to ask my college students, “How confident are you that your current skills will still be marketable 10 years from now?”
It is in doing different things that we multiply our potential. It is in doing different things that we also become more vulnerable, inept, and inclined for potential failures. But let this be about the appetite to grow, learn, try, evolve, and welcome the process of becoming.
We are all in this journey of becoming, and it is not always a straight and full-visibility path.