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When I was in high school, I had a mock interview for college held by a volunteering professor. He asked me what I would like to study in college; I explained that I had not yet decided because I was interested in many subjects and would like to take my time to explore them better. He proceeded to tell me,
"That is very naive. You will never be successful at anything if you can't focus on one thing. All the successful people have to choose one thing to work on."
I have since forgotten what I had replied to him. But the unexpectedness of that admonishment stuck in my head through the years, as it became an emblem of many other similar moments in which people cautioned me against the naivety of my multifaceted passions.
I currently work as a software engineer, but my path to where I am today was far from linear and, in a sense, a defiance of those 'cautionary' moments. I struggled to write my first post because I realized I still do not fully identify myself as someone in technology. Not because I am not deeply passionate about the medium or don't love every aspect of my job, but because the sum of my experiences thus far transcends a single industry definition.
As a kid, I always loved the arts just as much as I loved the sciences. I was curious about everything and equally unsure about commitment or a "destiny" of any sort. I was not one of those people that knew what I wanted to do at a young age; the opportunity cost of announcing a singular track always seemed unimaginable and unduly stressful.
Along the way, many people told me, "you will figure out what you want to do"--in a way that seemed to allude to some sort of prophecy that would descend upon me in time. I found out eventually that was not true. You do not come upon career revelations in a vacuum or in school. You have to be out there in the world to react with experiences and let them inform you.
The only way to know what you want to do is to try a lot of things and break expectations--until you find innate fun in your work rather than a job description. I tried many things: from journalism, to finance and consulting, to non-profit work, then eventually to interaction design and software engineering. I noticed along the way when my preconceived notions of certain careers were different from my day-to-day realities, when I realized I was spending all my time on a certain "hobby" rather than my day-job, and when I persisted through certain tasks and quickly grew bored of others.
Eventually, I realized the things that were important to me: I needed something knowledge-driven which demanded me to learn new things constantly and a skillset that allowed me to synthesize subject interests and create. I had not fully known that about myself at eighteen, and I could not have learned that without doing a lot of different types of work.
Each new role brought me a little closer and informed me a bit better. My passion for economic development brought me into a think tank, where I had the idea for building a web-based non-profit platform. That took me into the world of product development and software engineering, which I fell in love with-- and today I work for one of the largest social causes web platforms at Change.org.
As I put myself out there, I realized that the only valuable constant through the experiences was what the work itself taught me in these various functions -- defined not by scaffolds of job description but by the depth that comes with producing value and pushing yourself towards a goal. All that I have done in the past changed my perspective of the world and what I know about myself. My passion for non-profit work is a big part of what drove me to engineering, even though I love the subject matter for itself deeply as well. Work transcends the boundaries of career definitions--it is inherently multifaceted and can live up to the complexity of our passions and motivations. It is rarely "one thing".
So if you have no idea what or who you want to be and feel the pressure of the world demanding a clean interpretation of you, resist it and hang on to your complexity and questions. Resist the ease of attaching yourself to a confined definition of one job for safety and acceptance. Celebrate not knowing but still be responsible for it--by putting yourself in a variety of situations, trying a lot of things, and above all, working really hard.
Embrace your multidimensionality and let the work you do live up to it.
Follow Jasmine Tsai on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasmineyctsai