By Nicole Phillips

Last November, my boyfriend and I went hiking in Tasmania. On the final lunchtime of the 7-day Overland Track, we sat with some nice newly-weds and ate our stale mountain bread with peanut butter and melted Kraft singles. Between mouthfuls, the husband turned to us and asked if we enjoyed the hike. We nodded ‘very much so’, and returned the question. He looked at his wife and they sighed in unison. ‘Hiking isn’t really our thing,’ he told us. ‘We’re more of a climbing couple,’ and concluded the odd exchange by asking ‘what are your hobbies?’

I was thrown into an existential panic. What is my hobby? Do I need one self-defining niche? Or had the Kathmandu clad man tapped into a much greater anxiety; one that cut deep into my insecurity about a lack of defined career goal.

If you are a generalist like myself, you may have sleepless nights wondering where you should be directing your skills and energy. Stretch that thought further and you wonder how will you ever be one of the greats if you can’t hone in on one thing. I’ve never been good at committing to interests long term – I’ve dipped my feet into scuba diving, some days I’m into running, others I dabble in playing trumpet and drawing – so why would my job be any different?

I used to envy my friends who knew at age 5 they were going to be a vet or a teacher or (somewhat unnervingly) an oncologist. For the rest of us rookies, we’re faced with a real career conundrum: we’re interested in lots of things, but not unwaveringly passionate about any one thing. In a society where studying a law degree no longer carves out a clear path in the courts (contrary to old Malcom’s “don’t study law unless you’re going to be a lawyer” rant), we struggle to navigate the overwhelming amount options. Our CV says that we’re creative, tech-savvy, analytical, volunteered at a charity, won some badminton competition once – yet, the end goal is a single job in a particular field.

So, do we take the terrifying plunge of putting all our eggs in one job basket? And if we do commit to one vocational calling, should we prepare a plan B for our career if it doesn’t work out? Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who is basically the authority on success, says there’s absolutely no problem with keeping doors open, but we should set 18-month short-term goals so that there’s something more concrete to work towards. Your dream job may become clear to you while you’re gaining skills and networks in a totally different area. Melanie Whelan, CEO of Soul Cycle, spins this philosophy another way. In an interview with The New York Times' Adam Bryant, her advice is to “get a job and work hard. You are going to learn a ton in whatever that job is, so don't stress too much about what it is or where it is.”

It’s also important to remember that not all passions need to inform our career choices. Some interests are better left as just that, interests. Keeping passions as hobbies fulfil us in different and equally important ways.

I’ve resigned to the fact that, as a ‘multipassionate’ I may never confidently stick to one career path. And that’s okay. Having lots of interests is a gift, not an impediment.Life doesn’t always (or often) go to plan. While stability is comforting, life would be pretty dull if we knew exactly where we’d be in 20 years time. Even those 5-year-old-oncologists-to-be who once saw their (kinda morbid) future clearly laid in front of them may be thrown into career limbo, disenchanted with their chosen field, overqualified but unemployed or unable to make their career compatible with their lifestyle. It’s important to stay open to the prospect of having multiple careers throughout our life. Keeping your career options open also gives you a safety net if you chase down one dream and things go belly-up.

Fumbling five years into a Law/Media Degree, I am still hoping for that light bulb moment where everything becomes crystal clear and I realise that my true calling as an ornithologist was right in front of my nose the whole time. But I know that in reality, things tend to become clearer when we act. So in the meantime, I will continue exploring my options because, as the Sheryl Sandberg quote hung firmly above my bed says, “There is no straight path to where you are going.”

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