I grew up with a “perfect fit” approach to career and professional roles. Let me explain what I mean by that. Growing up as an adolescent and as a young adult, I imbibed this idea that each person has one profession, one all-consuming role that they are training for and that they will pursue for their entire lives. You could be a teacher, or a dancer, or a philosopher, but not all three things at once.
In my heart of hearts, I was always resistant to this mentality: always the eclectic personality, I resented sticking to just one thing in life. And yet, in my approach to life, I adopted it, though it almost cost me a lot.
I wanted to be a teacher, and a researcher, and a writer. I loved literature, the visual arts, history, and foreign languages. I wanted to write, and do taxidermy, and plan syllabi, and interview interesting people, and do photography. Of course, nobody can do everything and be good at it. Some of the things I really liked, such as photogtaphy, became hobbies in time, while others, such as writing, remained vocations. But what about profession?
For years, I trained to be a researcher, thinking this was the one profession that would help me combine three of the things I loved most: learning, writing, and teaching. But as my training was drawing to a close I realised that I had been confining myself to a tight box that it was difficult to expand, and that was hard to escape. A career as an academic meant I would have had to dedicate years of my life to a single strand of research, holding on to scant hourly-paid roles with bleeding fingers while struggling to pay rent and bills as an immigrant with no financial support system that I could rely on. Now, this was a problem: I needed financial security to stay alive, and my interests were too wide and wild for me to want to do just one and the same thing for years on end.
I realised that I had to adjust my focus, so I asked myself instead: Who am I? What are the constants in my life? I realised that a career is not just one profession necessarily – I touched on this in a commissioned blog post here – but the sum of the things that culminate with your vocational identity. For me, this is being a writer and an educator.
Now, these two words, “writer” and “educator” encompass a whole world for me. They mean that I enjoy and am good at learning about new topics, conducting original research and sharing it with others, at connecting with others and, hopefully, helping them reconnect with themselves through my creative writing. There is a quote by a Romanian historian called Nicolae Iorga that has stayed with me throughout my life. The quote goes something like this:
“Wisdom is yours only when you share it with another, otherwise, it is merely inside you.”– N. Iorga
Meaning, as I read it, that, if you keep the things you have learned to yourself, that does not engender any kind of growth. You should share and, while sharing, grow who you yourself are.
So, I am a writer and an educator. That could mean that I have worked and may end up working any number of different roles: as a journalist, teacher, widening participation officer, event organiser, publisher… And if I call myself by one of these roles, e.g., a journalist, does that mean that I am not or cannot be a teacher also, at the same time? Or that I cannot call myself a researcher at the same time?
I reject that “perfect fit” approach now. It’s unhelpful, it snubs opportunity for growth and renewal. People can and do have more than one vocation, and any number of skillsets. People can and do transform throughout their lives.
So if a young stranger should one day stumble upon this blog post while wondering about what profession to choose, I would like to tell them this: don’t think so much about the profession, think about who and what you are, at your core. What drives and motivates you? Hold onto those things. Careers are nonlinear, jobs may come and go, but what is the constant for you? That is your career. That is your life.