We are taught to think about our careers in a linear fashion. Each field is like a straight line, leading to an associated career.
For instance, say in high school you’re interested in science. You might study biology, move on to pre-med, then go to medical school, do your residency and then become a doctor. It’s a straight line. Sure, there are a few different types of doctors. You might teach or do research. But it’s generally assumed that if you’re on this path, you will use the skills you acquire in service of the associated career: Doctor.
Similarly, if you’re in architecture school, the associated career would be Architect. In music, the associated career is Musician. If you’re in law school, people assume you’re going to become a Lawyer. And so on.
Each path has an associate career at the end of a vertical trajectory. (Note: when people talk about a “useless major,” they are often referring to a field like English or Philosophy, which has fewer careers vertically associated with it. One of the reason that I don’t believe in “useless majors,” is that multipotentialites tend to apply their skills, not vertically, but laterally. Lets keep going.)
While a specialist might go straight down one of these trajectories to X associated career, multipotentialites often do things differently. We move laterally.
My not-so-linear path
I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been interested in many subjects throughout my life, but there are four main areas that I studied formally in school. They are: Music, Art, Film, and Law.
Here is each field with a path leading to the associated career I was considering:
Now, I could have gone straight down any of these trajectories.
Except that I couldn’t. I tried.
My path looked a bit more like this:
What’s with all the zigzagging about? Well see, I used my web design skills to promote my band. I used my music skills to make the soundtracks to my short films. I used my knowledge of the arts to do work related to copyright policy in law school. Now I use all of these skills in service of an entirely different project: Puttylike.
Of course I may use my skills vertically as well. I design websites occasionally and I’m going to LA to write and record an album next month. But the more interesting work tends to happen when I apply my knowledge horizontally, not vertically. When I use skills in ways they weren’t meant to be applied and smoosh different disciplines together.
The secret: get good at thinking laterally
When you’re drawn to a particular field or subject, don’t worry too much about what careers may be vertically associated with that field. You may use the skills you pick up in service of the associated career, or you may use them in service of a totally unrelated project in a completely different field.
The more you practice bringing your different passions into your work, the better you will become at it. Practice smooshing together your diverse interests and exploring the intersections between them.
Have you ever applied knowledge you picked up in one area, to a project in an entirely unrelated field? Share your stories in the comments below.