I love too many things.
September 29, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I choose what to do with my life when I'm passionate about everything?

I recently went to file a dependency appeal at my college because of recent events. While I was there they informed me that if this appeal didn't go through, I was looking at paying for school out of pocket or waiting until I'm 24 to return because I'm running out of financial aid money.

Since then I've been pretty down because I know that if I'd picked something -anything-, I'd at least be close enough to a degree that this wouldn't matter. Instead, I took most of my gen eds and a bunch of unrelated classes in an attempt to find my "calling" in life. I also did the whole "take a year off to figure out what you want to do" thing.

The problem is that I love everything. I've been an art major, I've been a pre-med student, I've been a music major. Of the things I'm interested in, there's no one -thing- that makes me go "This is it!" You'd think this would make it easy to choose something, but the problem is once I do choose something I feel like I've made a mistake whenever I experience what I've left behind.

For example, let's say I've decided that I want to teach music and start down that path. A week later, I'll be watching a movie and a particular scene will make me cry, and I'll feel so emotionally moved that I'll regret that I didn't pursue theater instead. This happens all. the. time. I can't describe how deeply I can be moved by certain things in life. Art, theater, music, nature. I want to learn everything about everything.

At the meeting with my financial aid advisor it pretty much hit me that not choosing anything was a decision - I'm now exactly where I didn't want to be. I'm a college dropout, working in retail with no future goals. The dropout part was my decision; I'm taking the rest of the semester off because when I go back I need to know exactly what I'm doing there so I don't squander the rest of my financial aid away.

The obvious solution to this seems to be to pick the career with the highest income potential and/or the most free time so I can make hobbies out of the things I left behind. But I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person (I've read the grumblebee comparison sooo many times.) So whenever I do choose something I'll spend all my time on it, I want my life to be immersed in it. If I want to do music, I'll spend hours practicing, listening, reading music blogs, and I'll love every minute of it. If I decide I want to work with animals, I'll spend my free time volunteering and reading up on animal cognition. So on and so on with all the other topics I've considered.

Because of this, I tend to be good at whatever it is I choose... so I can't weed out things based on what I'm actually good at. I'm not saying that my life will forever be this thing, but I know that whatever I pick I'll want to spend the next few years getting really good at before I start introducing any serious hobbies. It's not really a conscious thing I feel I can change; it's just an aspect of my personality.

I'm not asking anyone to choose for me, since I know that's a decision I'll have to make on my own. The question is, how do I choose and how do I deal with the pangs of regret for the paths not taken? How do I feel emotionally moved by some art form or other and feel okay that I didn't choose to study it? I think this is the major obstacle... I've "chosen" something sooo many times, but I'm so emotionally invested in the other things that it's difficult not to feel like I've made a huge effing mistake.
posted by Autumn to Education (35 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Does this help or make it worse? http://xkcd.com/863/

It's hard to make a decision, but you need to pick your favorite and move on it, reminding yourself that the alternative is to do nothing. You won't have pangs of regret; you'll be happy you avoided them.
posted by michaelh at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I definitely get the "I want to do everything!" thing. I was that girl. It resulted in me dropping out of college, getting certificate training, going down one path, and then realizing that wasn't what I wanted to do with my life, while concurrently taking online classes in another unrelated subject that I also realized was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

For me, it went back to the fact that I've wanted to be a writer (of fiction) since I was in grade school. I had enough people tell me it wasn't "practical" to doubt that desire and focus on all these other things (all of which I am great at!) but I never felt like I'd found my "calling." I was reading something that reminded me of how much more passionate I always was about writing. Now I am back in school and on the career path that I have no doubts or misgivings about, and it makes me truly happy.

So try thinking back and see if there is some goal you had of what to be a very long time ago, or one that seems to be consistent through the years. This is likely to be your strongest passion and the one you will be happiest with.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:00 AM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

You say you're great at everything you try, but do you just mean that you get As in the intro level classes? It sounds like you're not sticking with any one thing long enough to let it make a real impact on you beyond a first-day-of-school type infatuation. If that's the case, then what excites you is doing preliminary research. There are a million and one different fields that make use of research skills, most of them not so well-paying, but maybe you should see what opportunities are around on campus for professors needing research assistants.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:01 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, having gone through 7 changes of major before settling on something for undergrad, starting graduate school in that field, dropping out, learning an entirely unrelated set of skills for work, and then later pursuing graduate study in a field only tangentially related to either of those things -- and having deeply rooted passions and time-consuming side projects unrelated to any of those three -- I feel qualified to say you really only need to worry about committing to what you'll do *first*, and just for long enough to get the piece of paper in it. There's no reason to worry that you'll be stuck in that field for the rest of your life, or that you can't concentrate on all the other things or pick a different all-consuming passion after you're done with this one.

I believe if you study one thing in depth now, it's only going to benefit your later endeavors, because you now have the opportunity to become more disciplined and generally learn how to learn, and how to find and organize information in general. To me, that's what school is good for; I've found that in a lot of ways the subject matter is often secondary.
posted by treblemaker at 11:03 AM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

I feel the the same way as you do, especially about different forms of art. There's too many wonderful things and it's so hard to pick just one! Whenever I'm moved by some art, I wish I could use that medium as skillfully.

I think what helps me is to accept that I can be moved by something without having to use the same medium. I can never be that good at everything; it's better to specialize in one form of art and be content to enjoy the work of others elsewhere. This is kind of easy for me because I'm already a few years along doing Music Things, and the barrier for entry to do Other Things well enough that it's enjoyable is high enough that I'm dissuaded from picking up everything else. Your situation might be different.

Can't help you with the career choosing problem, though; you have more experience with it than I. I'll be watching this thread.
posted by Gymnopedist at 11:05 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I had to pick one thing to change about my past that would improve my life today, it would be to pick a field path early and learn it with diligence.

Or as Tony Soprano said, "A wrong decision is better than indecision."
posted by jander03 at 11:06 AM on September 29, 2011 [10 favorites]

But I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

Look, I absolutely positively love my job and my field, and I'm doing precisely what I set out to do back when I was in college (I'm in my mid 30s now). All that said, you will be a different person about this at the age of 30 than you are now in your early 20s. I'm a different person about that.

oinopaponton makes a good point, though: there's a market for people who are able to learn a lot about a new field, contribute to the client's needs about that issue, and then move on to the next thing. To get one of these jobs, it's less important what you end up studying and more important that you simply finish college. Teaching music, studying theater, doing art-- none of these things require that you get a specific undergraduate degree in these specific fields right now. What is required is that you get a degree and then figure out what you're going to do.

Maybe you shouldn't look at college as job training as much as you do and instead focus on finishing something that you're "fine" with studying. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You can still spend a lot of time mastering something and then move on to something else, later.
posted by deanc at 11:07 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Teaching music, studying theater, doing art-- none of these things require that you get a specific undergraduate degree in these specific fields right now. What is required is that you get a degree and then figure out what you're going to do.

I totally agree. You don't have to decide today to do those things (or other things you mentioned, like working in medicine) to do them. But you will need a college degree! Make THAT your identity right now. You are a college student, your job is to finish college. Throw in a few internships, if you have time, and you will be well on your way to building a great career for yourself.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:10 AM on September 29, 2011

This isn't supposed to be overly simplistic, but if you truly are passionate about everything, pick the one that will allow you to be in the best situation financially (however it is that you determine that in this economy). In this way, you will have more flexibility to pursue other passions that you have, as well. The diverse things that interest you are not only accessible through school. You can do art, theater, and many other things while being a doctor, for example (well, certain types of doctors). However, if you do other things you enjoy but are barely scraping by, you might not have the money or time flexibility to do other things that you love, let alone that one thing with excellence.

Money isn't everything. But it can provide many opportunities if you can get past the "just surviving" part.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:11 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

There seem to be a lot of questions today about the paralysis of having too many choices.

You're probably very talented and have an aptitude for picking things up, but... no one frankly is "good at whatever it is they choose." Really and truly, no one. Whatever else you're going through in your decisions, I would not use "I'll probably succeed in anything and regret all the things I didn't succeed in!" a reason to lean on as to why it's difficult to pick something. What you're actually good at takes time, real serious grindstone time to reveal. Mastery takes time and repetition and actually DOING IT, all of it, the boring it and the shitty it as well as the fun it.

Don't let hypothetical success and presumed limitless ability be an impediment to you moving forward with small, concrete actions.

And don't let the romance and sheer beauty of art, theater, beauty and nature, intoxicate you into thinking that the only way to do them all justice is to throw yourself bodily and passionately onto a pyre of lifelong, monastic and single-minded dedication.

Go back to school, learn something that lets you practice reading deeply, writing well, thinking critically.
posted by sestaaak at 11:13 AM on September 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

"Maybe you shouldn't look at college as job training"

That's exactly what I was going to say. I majored in music, then I became a music therapist, then I became a psychologist, now I'm practicing psychology and writing songs and I also like to make little videos and I also like to cook and I also blah blah blah.

Figure out the quickest way to get the degree and just GET IT. My son just started at a good liberal arts college (ranked among the highest 15 in the U.S.) and we attended the president of the college's welcoming speech to parents. She stressed that an undergraduate degree is NOT job training, that you can do virtually anything including apply to virtually any graduate school with ANY undergraduate major. She told the students the same thing in her speech to them.

It's great that you explored many things. Now pick the department that's the easiest for you so you'll have extra time to explore other subjects on your own, without getting college credit for them, in your spare time, and just get the hell out of college.

By the way, Barbara Sher has a number of books out like "I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was" and something else called maybe "Scanners" about people who can't pick one thing. She basically says you can do everything if you organize it all efficiently, but you're not up to that yet. You're up to finishing college, so just do that!
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:16 AM on September 29, 2011

Variants on this question get asked every now and again on Ask Metafilter: you might want to look at threads 91527, 114521, 148103, 152264, 156495, 193217, 194382, 187567 and 187156 that could contain a lot of useful resources for you (I am truly sorry not to provide proper links, but I am in a terrible hurry!). Most of these threads mention Barbara Sher's book "Refuse to Choose". I'm usually quite sceptical about self-help books, but I got a lot of value out of this one, and think you will as well. Good luck!
posted by muhonnin at 11:23 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm totally you! I mean, I cried in ninth grade when the guidance counselor told me I couldn't take music, art, and creative writing! I almost went to art school then changed my mind six weeks before orientation and went to school for writing instead! Every time I took a new humanities class in undergrad I had to talk myself out of adding a new minor! I am not now doing what I went to graduate school for! The world is so interesting, so multifaceted!

Still, DoubleLune is right on. When you look at your life globally, I think you'll find that there have always been things you've fallen back on as a sort of default when your new, shiny interests waned. For me, it was fantasy and science fiction for teenagers. I spent my afternoons in high school writing fanfic. I took electives in it in college, even between my courses in Philosophy of the Mind, and when I was stressed out about writing poetry in graduate school, I picked up and read dumb Star Wars license novels. Only eventually I realized they weren't dumb--eventually I realized that there was this thing that had always spoke to me in the way nothing else had, and I was ignoring it, denying how deep my passion really ran, because I was letting myself get distracted and maybe I was a little ashamed and maybe, as DoubleLune said, my true passion seemed kind of impractical.

I don't know what your thing is, but I don't doubt that you have one. And know this: once you throw yourself into it with all your heart and soul and mind, you'll realize how facile your "expertise" in that subject once was. You'll go from being a gifted apprentice, and, through struggle and through dedication, become a master at whatever it is you love. The depth of engagement you'll have with that topic will be surprising and crazy, because, I'm sure, you already feel that you know all there is to know about this thing. But you don't, because you've been spending too much time on other things for that to ever really be true.

That doesn't mean you won't have moments of wistful regret. Sure, I miss my nights painting in my basement in high school--only do art once in a blue moon now--and sometimes I read my old poetry and think, "Hey, I loved that once." But it's kind of like thinking about your nice highschool boyfriend. You can see what was good about him, but you wouldn't ever go back to that--you're so much more now, and the person you're with is so, so much better.

So think about it. When all pretensions and outside judgments and practical concerns are torn away, when do you really love most of all? The answer is in you somewhere. Promise. Find that thing. Honor it. Work hard at it. If you ask me, it's the only way to live.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:28 AM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

A few ideas:
* Choose randomly. It seems like the choice and the what-if are what bother you. So, to some degree, it doesn't matter what you choose.
* Choose by the easiest way to finish your degree -- such as fewest classes, or classes at better times for you.
* Consider which option would give you the most options in the future. I have a lot of interests myself. I'm working as a journalist now, because journalism can cover possibly anything. I'm leaving journalism because it's going downhill. So I'm studying geography, which offers wider possibilities than you might think.
posted by maurreen at 11:31 AM on September 29, 2011

Don't focus on how if you become [a music teacher] you won't be [a famous actress]. Focus on how in the realm of music teachers, you'll have the career skill of being able to assist with school plays, and the useful professional skill of being able to discuss the presentation aspect of music performance as a dramatic tool.

It's not about doing things A, B, C, D, and E all professionally. It's about taking your skills A, B, and E, and applying them to your career in C-D liasons, until as the shifting job markets take their toll you find that your skills in E are really the thing that got you the job in the first place.

For example, I am a scientist who did not have an English dual major, and "settled for" having my grad advisor comment that mine was the best-written dissertation to cross his desk. I also have never been tempted to become a professional musician, but that extra $100/month gig money sure did come in handy, and I realized that it's thanks to those performances that I can walk into a (science) job interview with dry palms, a sense of humor, and the ability to modulate my speaking volume to any size room.

Do what you do, and don't get hung up about choosing which is the thing you'll get paid for. You'll be the most excellent dramatist in your whole pre-med program. Or the best chemist in the whole drama department. Doesn't matter which, the point is, you take your skills with you even when you leave the major program.
posted by aimedwander at 11:40 AM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that not choosing among my options is a choice, and (when applicable) probably the worst one I could make. Then, in choosing something, I've already not made the worst choice, which takes off some of the pressure associated with choosing.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:50 AM on September 29, 2011

I can't describe how deeply I can be moved by certain things in life. Art, theater, music, nature. I want to learn everything about everything.

I feel like this too. I love music more than anything else in life. It's not even close, really. I collect music, talk about music, and go to shows all the time. I might even learn an instrument some day. But I'm not a professional musician- because I'm 99% sure I lack the aptitude to do it professionally. Hobbies are fine, but for a career I believe you have to choose something you have some kind of aptitude for.

You can be moved by things and love things without making them your career. And I'm not just settling for something I hate. I'm trying to make a career in movies because it combines a bunch of things I love- writing, visual design, photography, and even music.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:54 AM on September 29, 2011

But I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

Find a new attitude somewhere between these extremes, and you'll be much more free to choose a major and career (which will probably be the first of many). Your requirement that your job perfectly express who you are is a recipe for misery in these times where many people's career trajectories are not what they hoped they would be. I'm guessing you'd never say "my relationship is my identity" or "my family is my identity," right? Don't limit yourself like that!
posted by Wordwoman at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, some schools offer multidisciplinary degrees, such as in liberal arts in general.
posted by maurreen at 11:59 AM on September 29, 2011

oinopaponton is so right about preliminary research! You know what's a good fit for people who love preliminary research? Being a reference librarian. One way to go about it (there are many):

- Pick two things. Double major. One in the humanities and one in the sciences, maybe, or fields that intersect different disciplines, like classics or geography. If you can pick up any IT or web dev skills along the way, that's awesome.
- Get yourself an MLIS. (Absolutely do not go into debt to do this, but do it.)
- While in school, get yourself a job or internship doing reference.
- Find a job in an academic library.
- Work there, doing preliminary research and answering people's questions on all different subjects. Meanwhile, take classes in whatever you're obsessed with this year, for free or reduced tuition. Been obsessed with the same thing for several years? Start working towards another degree in it.

aimedwander's advice is also great: do many things and don't get hung up on which one pays the bills. I was a job-as-identity person for a while. I got older and shifted away from that. Now I make a living doing things I mostly like, and nerd out passionately in my free time doing things that would be really tough to do full-time for money. For me, this seems like the best route to long-term happiness.
posted by clavicle at 12:06 PM on September 29, 2011

I read somewhere once--I think it was in Scientific American--that a group of scientists had decided that it took 10 years of constant work for anyone to master a specific skill. Ten years! Sometimes I am horrified by that number; sometimes I am comforted. But, with all respect, this means that you're not possibly "good at everything," because being truly good at something requires a lot of hard work and commitment along with a particular spark and depth of passion for your subject.

And I think the only way to figure out what your true work should be is to find out if you have the patience to slog through all of the painful, slow, tedious parts of learning it well enough to be really good at it. And the only way to do that is to pick one and start slogging. If you think about it in terms of the 10-year framework, picking a year of your life to devote to one thing isn't quite the huge commitment you're making it out to be in your head. In fact, you could almost pick randomly between all of the things you're interested in. Sticking with something--anything--for a year will make it easier for you to make the next decision, because the time and effort involved will make it clearer to you what types of work you like and what types of work you can't stand.

Also, when I was right out of college--and totally overwhelmed by the array of life choices in front of me--I came across Julia Child's description of trying to learn how to make proper French bread in a home oven and failing miserably for two years before finally finding the right teacher and recipe. This part was very helpful to me:

"Then we met Professor Calvel of the Ecole Francaise de Meunerie in Paris, and it was like the sun in all his glory suddenly breaking through the shades of gloom. Fortunately those two years on the wrong road had been useful, because as soon as Professor Calvel started in, we knew what he was talking about, even though every step in the bread-making process was entirely different from anything we had heard of, read of, or seen....We now knew we could succeed, because we had seen and felt with our own hands so clearly where we had failed."

Or, in other words, every time you choose to do something and then discover after a period of time that it is the Wrong Thing for you, you haven't been wasting your time. You've just been making it easier for yourself to recognize the Right Thing when it does come along.
posted by colfax at 12:23 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly? If you're limiting yourself to the humanities and the arts, it probably doesn't really matter AT ALL, as long as you have your eye open for opportunities and you do well in whatever major you chose. It's a much bigger choice if you're chosing between art/humanities and science.

And um ... you know that lame feeling you have now at having to work retail? Well, 10 years from now if you are only making $15/hr because you majored in drawing and aren't qualified for any jobs, you're going to feel even lamer. So pay attention to your job prospects. Because the job market REALLY doesn't care about your individual preferences -- your choices are externally constrained by the job market, not the other way around.
posted by yarly at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

a lot of great advice here from various posters, so hopefully i don't repeat what someone else has said. i'm currently still in university (second last semester until i graduate) and i've changed my major four times from psychology, to sociology, to english, to speech communication. but i also wanted to pursue things like social development studies, urban planning, and peace and conflict studies. last year i decided to pursue speech communication with a minor in english and i have not changed my major since then.

i had to change my major four times in order to realize that speech communication (despite the fact that i hate presentations) was for me because i succeeded in this program, was able to grow as a person, learned a lot of interesting information, and i can apply this degree to a variety of careers (although the major itself is broad). focus on the present moment (obtaining your degree) rather than the future (having a career that you like), make a list of things that you like and dislike from each type of major that you have pursued, check out past course outlines if possible, and look at the course requirements.

just a side note as well, but post-secondary education can be great but it's not the be-all end-all in terms of education. someone can be a high school drop out yet be more educated than a university undergraduate student. i guess what i'm trying to say is that you have a lot of great interests and passion for life which is wonderful, but don't let the classroom setting be the only means of educating yourself. you can major in art or music or any other area of interest, but it does not mean that you have to omit the others from your life either now or once you graduate from university.

good luck, i hope everything pans out well for you.
posted by sincerely-s at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2011

I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

For your own long-term wellbeing, I would encourage you to find a way to let go of this. When you find yourself in a difficult or toxic employment situation — which, since every single person I've ever spoken to about it has had a Job From Hell in their past, it's likely you will — it will be easier to get through if you don't have the misconception that it says something about who you are.

Before I left my Job From Hell, I woke up every work morning for a year with nausea and dry heaves. And I wasn't even dealing with "but being a/an [X] is who I am — now what?" I was just dealing with a backstabbing co-worker and a manager whose interpersonal skills were for shit.

And as others have said, what you major in doesn't necessarily reflect what you'll wind up doing. I was a legal studies/poli-sci major, but in the 13 years since I graduated I haven't worked at any jobs related to law or government.
posted by Lexica at 1:46 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another voice chiming in to say that you shouldn't feel like you need to make a decision you'll stick with for the rest of your life. Pick something you're passionate about now and pledge to stick with it, say, at least until you go back to school. Maybe it's something you teach yourself, maybe it's something you get involved in (like, say, joining a band or a community theater group), maybe it's some sort of course you take (like, I don't know, a series of astronomy classes at a community college). Once it's time to go back to school, re-evaluate and see if you're still interested in this topic. If you are, great. If it's something new, then make that your major and just see that through.

I changed my college major several times, have considered many different career paths, got a masters in something completely different from my BA, and have recently, at 33, started a new career that finally really, really feels "right" to me. I actually have spent most of my actual career in one broad field, but have done many things in that field and am now on a different trajectory within it. I'm not as "far along" as some of my peers who are the same age and who chose one path and stuck with it, but I don't at all regret my twenties because I learned so damned much and had some amazing experiences that made me who I am today. These experiences and knowledge made it relatively easy for me to pick up my new profession and advance quickly.

Eventually, you'll hit on the thing that's right for you. You'll know it's right because you'll want to stick with it. You won't necessarily feel as "ooh, shiny!" about it always, but it'll be something you can see yourself doing for a while. A good hint is that your boss's job looks appealing to you (right now is the first time in my life that I want my boss's job).

I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

This may or may not change. It's changed for me. Even though I love my job and get a lot of creative and intellectual satisfaction from it, I leave it at the office now. Actually, it wasn't until I found something that was so right for me that I changed. Which seems ironic, but it makes sense - my career doesn't take up so much mental or emotional energy as it used to, so I can focus on other things.

I'd advise you not to get too stuck on "this is the kind of person I am" lines of thought - in my experience, this is as limiting as it is helpful.
posted by lunasol at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2011

I used to think I was a my job was my identity person, but it turned out who I was changed (if you can imagine) and now what I really want is a job that has nothing whatsoever to do with me as a person. In my off-time and freelance time, I'm a writer type, but I don't want a job that has me doing that because it will grind the love right out of you, doing it 8 hours a day for 40 hours a week forever.

I'm actually at a decision point where I have an offer for one of those all-consuming my-job-is-me places versus doing what I've been doing, which is freelancing and working on three different projects at once and sort of doing it on my terms and I gotta say, I'm leaning towards freelancing because I think I'm too old for that all consuming crap. I've got a bunch of stuff I want to work on simply for the joy of working on it, not because I have to make rent, and that's going to be difficult in an all-consuming place. My freelance gigs require considerable creative energy, but when I get sick of working on them, I wrap them up or find another one.

I regret not picking a field I was good at that would let me make money enough to pursue everything else I want to do in my free time that may or may not turn into something. Instead, I had to do it the hard way (and you probably will, too).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:00 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one other thing: you might be wondering what happens if you do pledge to stick with something for, say, a year and then get something else you're super-excited about in 5 months. I'd say set the new thing aside for the time being. Acknowledge that it's really cool and interesting, and promise yourself you'll get back to it at the end of the year. If you're still interested then, great! If not, then also great!
posted by lunasol at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or as Tony Soprano said, "A wrong decision is better than indecision."

As someone who's had a wide range of interests and talents, made good decisions, made wrong decisions, and suffered at other times with indecision, I cannot agree with this sentiment more.

But I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

Unless you're one of the very very few very very lucky ones, you'll change your mind about this within a decade. (And it's not necessarily a bad thing, honest.)
posted by aught at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher is all about how to indulge many of one's varied interests, including holding more than one career at a time. It is a great book and it can give you ideas for managing it all.

Past that, pick one thing first is good advice that I agree with. I have the same problem as you and that has been helpful to me. I'm totally sympathetic though.

I would also recommend reconsidering the idea that a career must be your life, and instead relegate it to being merely part, or half. You've basically figured out you actually *won't* be happy doing only one thing, so you've set up a situation you can't win. You can have a fulfilling career that pays well and/or has lots of free time AND fit the other stuff in on the side, or seasonally, or on certain days of the week (see Sher's book for more ideas). If you did become a music teacher, you might have summers off to do an entirely different job, or you could set your own hours as a private tutor, or travel for other purposes and tutor in those places to sustain yourself, or whatever. I tutor writing to finance side projects, but I also enjoy teaching and writing so it's not a bad job. Sher's book is full of ideas like this.
posted by Nattie at 3:10 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

LISTEN TO NATTIE! She wrote a bit on my question a few months back. The book was very helpful to me. Thanks again Nattie!

posted by thorny at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2011

I'm a job-is-my-identity person, not job-is-a-way-to-make-a-living person

Respectfully, you haven't had anywhere near enough jobs to know this - you're not even out of college! Do you think, as I trundle off to my corporate multinational job every day, that I'm overjoyed at the prospect my work is largely meaningless and if I disappeared no one would probably even notice for a year despite the quite respectable pay I take home? Do you think the pay cheque is a 100% substitution for the feeling of meaning and significance that is absent in my job? Hell naw!

But guess what? A) it pays my mortgage, B) it's doesn't leave me a stressed out wreck when I get home C) it's highly unlikely I will still be earning the same money in ten years in this career. I can say none of those things about the job I had when it was my identity - and I thought that was my dream job! Ugh! Let me tell you pride is no substitute for security and tranquility.

You sound like a bright kid who's somewhat scared of failure and not living up to the standards in your head. I empathise; I was once a bright kid like that, too. A bright kid so caught up in my potential that the idea of trying to realise anything less than a 100% of it was frankly terrifying and disappointing. A bright kid dropping subjects at uni like lupe fiasco drops rhymes. But I started a little mantra in my head that "P's [passes] get degrees!", and I got out there and work work worked, and some of it was mediocre but it put me ahead of a lot of other bright kids who had a resume full of potential and not much else.

The US is in a recession right now, and is going to be economically shakey for some time to come. You don't want to be 40 and working for ten bucks an hour; it's a hard life. You can change your mind down the track; you can pursue all the hobbies you want and turn them into jobs, but you need to - either through uni or something else - be setting yourself up so that you will have income, security and fall-back to ensure this is possible. Pick a number, any number, everyone's a winner - and stop worrying about smarts. I hire people myself on occasion these days, and let me tell you: I care not a whit for smarts. Work trumps smarts every day. Teaching someone to be smart is easy, if they know how to work. Teaching someone to work is a lot harder, regardless of their smarts. Whatever you decide to do, make it a testament to your ability to work; people will notice and respect that, regardless of field.
posted by smoke at 5:49 PM on September 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Do the one that gives you a decent income and time to do everything else. Also think about what the careers are actually like in practise. For example, being a scientist might sound cool to some people, but in practise actually doing routine lab work not coming up with great insights might be repetitive.

Having time to do what you want and a decent income is more important than you can imagine. I haven't read the article, but you don't get a choice between 'career defines who you are' and 'work to live', the former's what happens if you're lucky enough to find a vocation early on and the latter's what you get if you can create time for yourself to pursue avocations. The third way is working and not getting to live much, which is what a lot of people are stuck with. So if you don't know what your vocation is, then put your effort into something that gives you options and you can change later.

Nthing that it's important to stick to something.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:40 AM on September 30, 2011

I majored in broadcast journalism and made the move to become a musician after realizing that's what I REALLY want to do. I based it on basically what I've ALWAYS wanted to become. Was there something prominent in childhood you knew you could be?
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 4:51 PM on September 30, 2011

You might find this blog series interesting. It's mostly an argument that passion comes from skill (and external praise, which I'm somewhat less on board with), not from passing fancies.
posted by orangejenny at 6:15 PM on September 30, 2011

Another thought occurs to me... There's a social sciences notion that it takes 10,000 hours* of practicing a skill or craft (and it should be high-quality practice) to earn guru-like mastery. And this practicing trumps natural talent. While American parents move their kids from activity to activity hoping to find their passion, parents in other cultures (China, France to some extent...) pick a skill or craft without really considering whether it's something their kids will be naturally good at or love. Not only does that practice make the kids really good at the craft, but it instills discipline and, I imagine, an understanding that we human beings are malleable like a soft metal and consistent practice (or hard work) is the hammer that shapes us.

So, again, pick something, stick with it for a few years, and practice it with the intention of mastery.

*I read about these ideas in books like The Talent Code and Outliers which draw from the work of sociologists and the like. And 10,000 hours (or ten years) is meant to be a round number that seems to be about right when you look at the very best soccer players, singers, musicians, computer programmers, etc.
posted by jander03 at 9:21 PM on October 2, 2011

« Older What's an easy-to-use dictation program for Mac?   |   blinking text and maybe some horrid clip art, too Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.