Drowning in Career Options: What to do When You Have Too Many Passions
When it comes to choosing a career, more choice isn’t always a good thing. We’re constantly told that doing what we love is the secret to a thriving career—but what happens when love comes in multiples?
If you have too many passions to count on two hands, you’re preaching to the choir. Throughout my career, I’ve wanted to do everything from running a nonprofit to becoming a genetic counselor to teaching yoga. And now? I work to help other people figure out what it is they want to do with their lives.
Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about dealing with too many career options. Consider the tips below to help if you’re dealing with this career conundrum.
1. Peek at the Job Market
A great first step is to do some really practical research about the career paths you’re considering. Speak to people who’ve made careers out of your passions, and ask how they did it. Find out what training is involved and how much that will cost you in both time and money. And, most importantly, start doing some early-stage job searching in your areas of passion and see what’s out there (don’t forget to look at starting pay).
This all sounds basic, but here’s a quick illustration of why it’s so important: As an undergraduate psychology major, I was obsessed with becoming a genetic counselor. I spoke to my lecturers, found the graduate program I needed to complete, and was thrilled I’d found my calling. Until a (frustratingly wise) friend suggested I see how many jobs were being advertised for genetic counselors. I spent three months looking and came up with exactly zero. In my entire country.
As I learned, it’s not enough to find the perfect job on paper—it needs to exist in the current job market. (And for the record, I still haven’t seen one of those jobs advertised.)
2. Think Long-Term
Sounds awfully unsexy, I know, but it’s also important to consider which of your passions is most compatible with your future lifestyle vision. Will you be able to find a job in a place you want to live? Will you be able to make enough money to support the kind of life you see yourself leading? If you want to start a family at some point, will your career allow for that?
When I was going through my humanitarian phase, I considered working for the Australian government. Until I found out I’d need to complete a rotational graduate program in our nation’s fine capital, Canberra. I don’t want to seem unpatriotic, but Canberra is not the type of place I want to live—not then and not now. Reaching that conclusion sooner rather than later saved me time, money, and eye-clawing boredom. And significantly narrowed my field of options (in a good way).
3. Step Into the Trenches
The idea of an epiphany—that “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life!” moment—is a myth. Clarity comes from action, not thought.
Translation: Find a few simple, low-cost ways to try out some of your career options for real: volunteering, shadowing, or even doing some freelance work. Actually getting your hands dirty will give you a sense of whether you like the daily realities of the job—or just the idea of that job.
At one point, I was convinced I needed to work for a global humanitarian organization and was offered an internship at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. A move to Geneva isn’t exactly simple or low-cost, so I decided to volunteer one day a week with a local NGO first.
Thank goodness I did, because I ended up hating it. Despite wearing jeans every day and starting work when I wanted, I found the work itself dry and the constraints of nonprofit operations demotivating. I loved the idea of it, but the reality was completely different. Once I got clear on that (and was okay admitting it), I felt free to move forward and find a world-changing job in an environment that truly suited my personality.
4. Hobbies are Your Savior
Here’s a newsflash—you don’t have to turn everything you love into a career or a money-spinner. And in fact, it’s better that you don’t.
For example, when I was weighing up a career in instructing yoga, the low-stress chai-drenched lifestyle I imagined was a far cry from the practicalities of making a living out of my down dogs: unsociable work hours, unpredictable income, trading time and physical presence for money, and the repetition. I quickly realized that yoga was much better suited as a way to spend my time after work than as a long-term career path. And you know what? That’s just fine.
Think critically about what your passion will really look like when it’s your source of income, day in and day out. It may, in fact, be more enjoyable when you’re just doing it for yourself.
5. Remember That You May Never Choose (and That’s Okay)
So, what if you’ve gone through all of these steps, and you still have nearly a dozen career paths you’d love to pursue?
Well, I’m here to tell you that having an evolving bucket list or a career path that defies logic is 100% OK. After spending years envying the neatly defined careers of my friends, I came to the better-late-than-never conclusion that I wasn’t wired that way. As a multi-passionate, I found the concept of expertise in one specific area fascinating and enviable, but I couldn’t ever see myself acquiring it. I’m woefully indecisive with a low boredom threshold. Not exactly a recipe for deliberate practice, is it?
Once I stopped fighting who I was and relaxed into the idea that different was okay, all the possibilities before me were exciting, not stressful. I love what I’m doing now, but I also know that I’ll probably have multiple careers throughout my lifetime.
Bring them on, I say—just don’t give me too many choices at once.