I recall being at a grant interview in Germany several years ago, crafting my answers to each of my interviewer’s questions carefully. I wanted to showcase my experience, innovation, and what I thought was charm. And so, I shared stories about my work in the globally discussed projects I had led, and I explained the several different fields that I focus on.
Then I waited for a response. After a moment of silence, one of the older interviewers threw his pen and shouted, "Well what are you? An activist? A professor? A reporter? You can’t be all of them!"
I replied that I, in fact, do represent all of those professions, and that my career intersects with a larger global framework and a larger life goal—and to my shock, my interviewer fumed with anger.
After the interview, I walked through Berlin pondering this reaction. Clearly I wasn’t going to receive the grant, but I was still content that I had stayed true to my goals. I wondered why, however, this interviewer had such a problem with my answer. Why can't I be all of those things? Why was he making me choose?
To this day, I disagree with the notion that I should choose, or should have to. I’ve actually always considered my being involved in a number of different careers to be a good thing. From both my own experience and that of my peers, there are a number of reasons why pursuing multiple fields, or even careers, is a big advantage.
You Can Build a Strong Foundation
"How should I set my future up?" my friend asked me once. "Do you think I should go into foreign policy, or run for local politics? Which one should I choose?" I realized that it was not only possible for her to do both, but it would actually be beneficial. After all, having a global outlook would certainly help her understand people, build relationships with those of diverse backgrounds, and learn how to lead—all crucial skills for a local politician.
Oftentimes, one path can be a building block for something else, and it can help you gain critical experience that’ll someday propel you toward another career goal. In my friend’s case, her foreign policy work would give her the foundation she needed to achieve her goal of being a politician. In my own career, my human rights work in the field allows me to tell animated and practical stories in the classroom, and my work as a lecturer enables me to be an empathetic interviewer and researcher in the field.
You’ll Open More Doors
Millennials are not plagued by the same challenges our parents were: having to stick to one career path and commit to a lifetime at one job. But we do have it more difficult in some ways, with a tough job market and global competition. And in this economy we face, having a range of experiences and careers is an advantage—whether it’s to have a couple of great fallback options, or to compete for jobs that have a wide range of skills.
My colleague and friend Soofia Asad was initially working in business after getting her degree, staying in the industry for seven years. But her true skill is photography and art, and she began to pursue her photography full-time. Her business savvy helped her expand her portfolio and land several gallery exhibits in Bangkok, and later she was able to merge the two interests by landing a gig at an animation and tech company in her native country of Pakistan—a gig that never would have been possible without first having two distinct career paths.
You Can Pursue Diverse Interests
One of my colleagues in India confessed she loved composing and organizing music, but would study medicine because it earned her respect. When I suggested combining both interests to engage in music therapy, she was thrilled—and decided to pursue music therapy as a separate career.
We live in a world where we can run a startup, have a day job, and work remotely at night if we want to—so why not take advantage of it? Don’t get me wrong—doing many things can be stressful, but it can also be exceptionally gratifying. If you can find the right balance, doing what helps you bring in a paycheck and also pursuing your interests will enable to you feel like you’re pursuing the career of your dreams, even if it’s a nontraditional one.
You Can Go Global
If you’re interested in working around the world, having a multitude of skills in different fields can not only help you land the job, but it can also make your overall assimilation to the country that much easier.
Across the world, different professions are respected in different ways, and you may find a skill set you have that was completely undervalued in the United States will be celebrated elsewhere. In Southeast Asia, you may find a demand for teachers, but you can also find a need for grant writers and research analysts as well, and in India there is a huge demand for voice coaches, teachers, and people with business experience. Most of these career paths intersect or build upon each other, and building on those layers is key.
My colleague in Korea, Luigina Webb, not only translates for major companies, but also works in the Korean Pop industry, and when she has time she models, too. Luigina’s interests and her degree in law make her a well-rounded and desirable candidate in many fields in Korea, which is a huge asset to her as she’s worked to settle and find work there.
Talk to other people in a range of fields, and you’ll find that most career paths are not linear and that each individual journey is different. This is normal—and it’s a great thing, and it opens many doors. Since that interview in Germany, I have continued to pursue and develop my different careers, and I’ve also realized and developed an even greater appreciation for how they all come together. I am not sure if I will ever fit in a one-track career—so for now, I will happily embrace the many career paths I have established, and look forward to seeing how they will evolve in the future.