Can I be a snake-breeding, table-waiting professional crocheter?
October 11, 2007 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I love everything. How can I narrow down my field of interest to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life?

I have a very diverse list of interests, ranging from genetics to painting, from reviewing music to crocheting to snake breeding. Basically any non-chem science, anything creative, anything relating to linguistics and anything involving animals. What can I do to prevent being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none? How can I figure out what I really have a passion for, so I can focus on it?
Also, I'm not in college right now. I don't want to sink money into it with no idea of what I want to do. Just to ward off any "that's what college is for" answers.
(Background: 19, female, I live with my boyfriend, don't have a drivers license, and am a broke waitress.)
posted by d13t_p3ps1 to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You don't HAVE to do one thing for the rest of your life. One of my friends started off as an opera singer after college, then a nurse, then some other stuff that I forgot, and now, he's a computer something. I really admire him because he makes me aware that what I choose to do now, isn't something I have to endure for the rest of my life. You always have choices and the power to change.
posted by spec80 at 8:52 AM on October 11, 2007

Hi me at 19... except for the lack of drivers license (which you may want to get, it does make things easier.)

Can you take some intro courses at your local community college to see if any particular field sparks your interest? I took a lot of anthropology, sociology, history, and lots of language courses, but eventually I found communication science which allowed me some freedom to stay in touch with lots of things I was interested in.
posted by k8t at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2007

Whats wrong with college? You get to take lots of general education classes that might make you think "Hey, in practice working with genetics is pretty difficult and tedious." If you go to a school with a lot of adult students you can talk to them and ask them what its really like to work in that field. There are certain things I love and have great interest in but would absolutely not want to work in those fields.

Or you might take a technology class and realize you love programming. Who knows. I think a 4-year degree opens a lot of doors especially the 'what to do' door. It certainly does if you want employers to take you seriously. You dont have to declare a major in the first year or two anyway. Getting your B.S. in whatever opens doors for grad school later in life.

I think its very difficult to go from broke to "my dream job whatever that may be.' Dream jobs have many paths but college is probably the easiest and most striaghtforward aside from getting an entry level position in a field you have interest in. Maybe a stint as a law clerk or temp may make you think law is for you.

Not to sound too negative but I think its easy to go from broke to more broke to "why didnt I just take that job my parents tried to get me/go to college. My get rich scheme involving Emu Farming and teaching dolphins Esperanto isnt working out."
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2007

Here's a mental exercise: make a list of possible things to do. Don't overthink it, just list a bunch of things you might do (from your description: snake breeder, music critic, linguist, etc.)
Then, this is the tricky part, take each item and convince yourself for a few minutes that you have to do this job every day for the rest of your life, until you die on the snake pit/mosh pit/language lab, etc. Really focus on this, visualize getting up, putting on snake-gear, having other snake breeder friends, etc.
Cross out the ones that freak you out. Put a smiley face by the ones that felt OK.
posted by signal at 9:06 AM on October 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't know the possibilities for jobs, colleges, etc. are in your area, but you may want to try some of these things to at least see if your interests are strong or not.
-Get a job (full-time, part-time) that allows you to work in one of these fields. Vet assistant? At a local animal shelter? Help at a local college? Some jobs give you more training, and colleagues can let you know what you may need to do to get to job position A, B, etc.
-try to hold out until you get a job that offers free tuition. Some jobs will pay for a couple college courses a year. It's easy to say you enjoy genetics with a high school background, but with more exposure, you may find you really love it or hate it.
-Volunteer. A couple hours a week. This can also put you in contact with people in a particular job field, give you more training, etc.
-Try a continuing education class - these are usually much cheaper, but you may enjoy taking a painting class with more training, etc.
-Use the resources in your community. If you have a local art museum, if you become a member, sometimes you can go in several times without additional cost. Go at least once a month, take a free tour/see the new exhibit, and teach yourself more information about the field.
-Why not take a class that trains you in something you can later create? An art class or a writing class, etc. If you want to be creative, having the tools to express the information while creating may be useful (this may not make any sense, but if you look at the art work of Salvador Dali - paintings that included a model of DNA, etc, they are interesting).
-Read more information about the topics. Enjoy genetics? Pick up the New York Times on Tuesday and read related articles (or go online to do this).

I'm also going to second that you can change careers at any point. Kudos for trying to follow an interest. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2007

posted by StickyCarpet at 9:17 AM on October 11, 2007

Nothing wrong, or uninteresting about college. I avoided it when I was younger and stumbled around for years but managed to do a lot of cool things (for me), like working on a fishing boat, being a lumberjack, and being a commercial photographer. I went back to school in my late 30's and was completely enthralled with many things I studied, such as chemistry, evolutionary biology, geology, and land use planning...I ended up getting a BS in geology and a Master's degree in City Planning. I have been a city planner for about 9 years and am starting to feel itchy again.

The thing about college is you don't need to know what you want to do before you enroll, this is what liberal arts educations are all about. You have an epiphany one day while sitting in class, then you go to graduate school to specialize.

I have always envied folks who have known since they were 5 years old that they wanted to study ant behavior, but hey, there are more convoluted paths to contentment or self-realization...
posted by philmas at 9:26 AM on October 11, 2007

i dunno what to tell you about picking a specialty (i still haven't), but i do know you need to get your lisence ASAP. if i could go back in time and change *anything* in my life, i would use that power to learn to drive in my teens. that is probably my single biggest regret. it is WAY harder to learn how to drive when you're older. all that stuff about old dogs and new tricks... i'm not even old yet and learning how to drive in my mid 20s is busting my ass.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:18 AM on October 11, 2007

Driving is my most intense phobia. But I guess I need to try and overcome it. All this advice is awesome, by the way. Thank you all so much!!!
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 10:28 AM on October 11, 2007

How can I narrow down my field of interest to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life?

Don't! Read this, then this, then decide whether or not you still need to do any narrowing. Odds are, you're awesome the way you are - you just need to allow yourself permission to pursue all of your interests.
posted by jbickers at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a similar sort of problem (and I do think of it as a problem), and as StickyCarpet suggests, I thought journalism would be the answer - constant exposure to new ideas, requiring a significant knowledge of each, exposure and access to lots of interesting people. Perfect, right? Alas, that certainly was not my experience. Being a professional journalist requires you to deliver_something_, whether it's good or not whether you feel like it or not, day after day after day. Almost anyone who can get out does so after a few years. Those in it for life tend to be either those at the top, or those are are very bitter
My advice to you would be to think very carefully about whether you are genuinely interested in _everything_. Take something like history - I went to the first a series of evening lectures on the interpretation of the ancient world two days ago, and found to my surprise that I was in fact very, very bored. (And confused). Or try something more esoteric like fly fishing (random example that just popped into my head). Read some books on it, go fishing, think about spending the rest of your life doing it. Sure you're interested? Maybe you are - just because I've never met someone who is actually interested in everything doesn't mean they don't exist, but I've met a lot of people who said they were interested in everything but in fact were not.

FWIW, incidentally, I think that your position (and I mean in general, not you specifically) is a common one among people who see themselves as smart and intellectual, Renaissance men and women thriving in the information age. When I sat down and really thought about it, I found that I am not in fact interested in everything. Just interested in a lot. And of those things, some more than others.

Finally, I think it's good advice about changing careers - one can, and I have, several times. The limiting factor though is how many times you are willing to start at the bottom, and how important success as measured by progression in a field or company is to you.
posted by StephenF at 11:02 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're doing the right thing by holding off on college until you know what you'd be there for.

Now try each one of the things you want to do.

No, really. Even if you need a degree to be a genetic scientist, you can be a lab assistant without one and be a research scientist without a degree in a year or two. Nothing is stopping you from taking a few bucks in tip money and going down to the fabric store to pick up some crocheting supplies and practicing. Maybe in some time you can start a small business doing that. Snake-breeding? There's plenty of info on the web on how to do it. Setting up a farm is as simple as buying the first few snakes and equipment and filing the business licenses.

Go live your dreams. Or you'll end up always wondering if you made the right decision.
posted by MaxK at 11:05 AM on October 11, 2007

Maybe consider your dilemma in terms of whether you want your job to reflect your wide variety of interests, or whether you should get a job that doesn't tax your energy too much, but allows you more quality free time to pursue your interests outside of work. Or, you could play both sides of the fence:

That's kind of how I landed in librarianship. At 19, I dropped out of college after a year because although I liked the educational aspect of it very much, I didn't see what the point of spending all that money was unless I was going to use my formal education toward a career. After living in the "real world" for a few years, bouncing around various jobs while exploring the world around me, I decided on an undergraduate major (film production).

I earned the degree, but for reasons somewhat beyond my control, I was unable to pursue a viable career in filmmaking. I was, however, able to go back to school for a master's, so I decided upon library science. I reckoned that at best, I would become a professional in a field I was very much interested in, and at worst, I could have a decent job that didn't stress me out to the point that I had no energy for my various interests.

It worked out great-- as a librarian I'm constantly exposed to new ideas and resources, and it's a very low-stress occupation that I can respect and to which I feel a personal connection. The pay ain't great, but it's definitely more than I could make without my degree, and without a lot more stress. I have plenty of energy outside of work to pursue my own interests, and a leg up on how to most effectively find the resources to pursue them.

So, not strictly saying "become a librarian," but just pointing out that it's possible to have a great career without settling for just one interest.
posted by Rykey at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2007

There's no rule that says you have to pick one thing and ONLY that thing for the rest of your life. You can always take 1 main job. .and have side jobs or side-hobbies for your other interests. Right now I have 1 main night-shift job, and 2 flexible day jobs. Its a ton of work, but its also really rewarding to be involved in so many things. (in fact, its often best advised to have multiple jobs or multiple hobbies, that way if something bad happens to your main job, you have something to fall back on to keep paying the bills!)

I definitely 'n'th the advice to get your drivers license (and conquer that phobia!).. you will feel much more independent and confident when you can drive wherever you want. It definitely a plus to a busy lifestyle. Are you worried about accidents ?... Just be diligent about safety (always wear seatbelt,etc).. odds are that if you do ever get into an accident, it will be a boring fender bender and not something life threatening. (I once pulled out in front of a propane truck going highway speed and got rolled through a ditch (in a soft top jeep) and climbed out with only a small bump on my head).
posted by jmnugent at 11:08 AM on October 11, 2007

The beauty of college is you don't really have to narrow. It's like a playground where you can take tons of interesting things, design your own major maybe, etc.

Don't go to grad school if you love breadth and variety, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2007

I'm very much like you, d13t_p3ps1, and it took me until I was in my late 30s to figure out how to manage my life. Here's what's worked for me:

1) While I don't expect to have a day-job that taps into all my interests, it's VITAL that I have one that stimulates me. Waiting tables was okay in my early 20s, but everyone I know burns out on it eventually. It's so many wasted hours every day.

So search for a MARKETABLE skill that's interesting to you. Don't expect it to be your whole life. Just expect it to be something fun that will pay your rent. For me, it's programming.

The education business is BOOMING right now, so you have many options for acquiring your skill. College is one way; certificate programs another. In my case, it was the self-study + building a portfolio + freelance jobs route. Now I'm a full-time programmer at a company.

2) Learn how to manage your free time so you can pack as many hobbies into it as possible. I live in a big city with a great public-transport system (drivers license problem solved) so subway time is perfect for reading. At night, in bed, I listen to recorded books.

3) Hook into networks of other people who share your hobbies. In other words, if you're interested in biology, google all the good biology sites and message boards and become active on them (maybe as a lurker at first). This makes a hobby feel like much more than a hobby. You're PART of something.

4) Think about hobbies and/or career choices that allow you to touch many fields. People here have mentioned journalism. That could work. I do theatre, which means that for each play, I have to research all sorts of interesting, random stuff.
posted by grumblebee at 11:35 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes, how interesting, that also sounds exactly like me (both back at 19, and now at age 30). I've tried very hard to overcome this same impulse. I've found that I'm very interested in something, learn everything I can about it, and lose interest. Thus the unused scuba gear, woodworking tools, paint, clay, huge numbers of books on different subjects, etc.

I have a computer science degree, and I do find this opens a lot of doors. It can be used in a large variety of companies, so it certainly doesn't hurt. Plus, my plan is to retire at a pretty early age so that I can follow up with my large number of hobbies.

One thing that has helped calm me down a bit is understanding my own nature. I know that when I'm dying to learn more about moray eel breeding (I just gotta buy a 250 gallon salt water tank, it's my destiny!!), I try to hold off on any major purchases. I allow myself to read everything, but I try to keep the money spending toned down, because I know the interest will wane.

In general though, as others have said, college won't hurt. You open a lot of doors, and you may as well be bored as a somewhat wealthy programmer / journalist / etc rather than a broke bored waitress.
posted by ceberon at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2007

Money or pleasure. Pick one, then act accordingly.
posted by ewkpates at 12:01 PM on October 11, 2007

I second (or third?) the notion that you don't have to pick something to do for the rest of your life. Personally I seem to be living my life in 5 year career blocks. No you'll never make it all the way up to CEO if you switch careers a few times, but if that's not important to you why does it matter. And you don't have to start at the absolute bottom each time - if there are any transferable skills, you'll get to start part way up.

I made the switch from ecologist to tour leader in a middle east country six months ago. I love my new job, will probably do it for 4 or 5 years, then switch again.

Personally, I can't stand the idea of doing one thing for the rest of my life. Like you, there's too many things I like to do.
posted by scrute at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2007

You could also try skipping the steady day job kind of thing and take the leap into multiple freelance and independent gigs. For example, you could work out of your home breeding snakes, pet-sit, walk people's dogs, review music, paint and crochet and create things (besides snakes), and whatever science-y things would bring you income.

It would mean embracing the jack-of-all-trades aspect of yourself, but would also allow you to give priority to one if it starts to speak more strongly to you. It would be far less steady and dependable than regular waitressing shifts. To counteract that, you could start your freelance work while gradually reducing your shifts, and work out the balance as your time and success allow.
posted by bassjump at 9:34 AM on October 12, 2007

I'm in the same place as you.

If it helps, I tried one of my supposed passions this summer and learned that while I enjoy the field, I do not want to play the same role in it as I thought I did.

The key thing is not to get so caught up in trying to choose The One Right Path that you stop moving and wind up on no path. Keep moving: You may take a wandering route to your destination, but at least you'll get there.

An older, wiser person gave me some good advice this year: If you don't know what to do, go for a business degree or an MBA. Business will play a part in whatever you choose to do, and you probably won't regret learning those skills. A business owner in the aforementioned field told me that the management classes in her undergrad major have been far more useful than the classes that pertained to her field.
posted by ramenopres at 10:21 AM on October 12, 2007

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