Why You Shouldn’t Limit Yourself To Only One Career

You’re attending an event. Someone asks, “What do you do?” How do you answer?

Maybe you say, “I own a restaurant.” Or, “I’m a manager at Acme Industries.” Or, “I’m a teacher.”

Whatever you say, I bet your answer won’t include the word “and.” But it should, regardless of the stigma often associated with being an “and.”

Take me. I ghostwrite books. I photograph weddings. I consult on productivity improvement. If I may say so — what the heck, I will — I’m pretty good at all three.

But here’s what happens. Say I’m shooting a wedding. Invariably an aspiring photographer will sidle up and want to talk about the business of wedding photography. Keen to plug in another variable on their revenue projection equation, almost every one eventually asks how many weddings I do.

“Just 10 or so a year,” I answer.

“Only 10? Can you make a decent living on that?”

“Depends on how you define decent,” I say. “I do weddings and I’m also a writer.”

“Oh…” they say, their voices trailing off… and immediately they look at me differently. To them it doesn’t make sense: I should either be a photographer or a writer — certainly not both. Successful people do one thing. Unsuccessful people are forced to do a variety of things to make ends meet. The fact I am both a photographer and a writer implies I must not be successful at either one.

So, no matter what their initial impression of me, no matter how big the wedding, no matter how sophisticated the equipment we bring, they no longer see me as a good photographer… because I don’t photograph weddings full time. I must not be good enough to specialize.

The same is true with ghostwriting. When I tell people I also photograph weddings they typically assume I have to do weddings because I’m a struggling writer forced to find other ways to make money.

To most people, “specialization” indicates accomplishment and success.

The opposite is true. You, me we’re too good to specialize. None of us is one “thing.” All of us possess a variety of skills – including skills we aren’t using. And no matter how successful we are in one pursuit, we all have other skills we would enjoy developing and using. Regardless of how fulfilling a current business or job may be, we all have other things we would enjoy doing too… especially if we got paid to do them.

Go ahead. Take the steps that allow you to include an “and” in how you describe yourself professionally. Just don’t think about what others do or what others can provide. Think about what you do or could do well — and most importantly would enjoy:

  • Maybe starting a small business on the side would be fun. You can start very small and even take a risk if you like, especially since any income you generate is supplemental.
  • Maybe diversifying your current business would be fun. If you sell products, find ways to expand your range by providing related services. Or provide unrelated services. Why not? You already have most of the business infrastructure in place…
  • Maybe teaching, or consulting, or working part-time, or going back to school would be fun. Other people want to learn new skills. Other business owners need outside expertise; outsourcing is a fact of life for most companies, and providing services part time is a perfect way to tap that market. How does, “I’m a supervisor and I’m halfway through an MBA program,” sound?

What you do to create an “and” isn’t nearly as important as making sure that whatever you do is what you want to do. That way your “and” doesn’t take focus away from your primary pursuit; instead it helps you recharge and refresh… and pick up new perspectives… and makes it even easier to be extremely focused and on-point when you’re pursuing your primary pursuit.

And don’t say you can’t afford to spend the extra time on an “and” – in many ways you can’t afford not to spend the time. When you do, if nothing else you create a buffer against downturns, and shifts in market conditions, and the possible loss of a job… and you get to have a lot more fun.

Be an “and.” Other people might not understand… but who cares?

I also write for Inc.com:

This post originally appeared at LinkedIn. Copyright 2014.







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