What do you do when you love so many things that you cannot decide what career direction to pursue?
As someone who transitioned from French literature to law to non-profit management to consulting to career coaching to teaching career entrepreneurship at the Yale School of Music and writing, speaking and coaching on career fulfillment, I was plagued by this very issue. Indeed, over the course of my various career iterations, I went from utter frustration at thinking that I was never going to figure it out to embarking on a process of reflection and experimentation to learning the beauty of aligning one’s career with one’s passions, values and strengths and of honoring the twists and turns of the journey to creative fulfillment and career success.
Yes, the process takes time and often leaves you wondering where you are going but once you connect the dots, there is nothing quite like it. If you are someone with multiple passions and feel stuck in your tracks, here are some reflections on what might be holding you back and what you can do about it.
Peter Spellman recently addressed the challenge of the “polymath musician” and encouraged them to feed their creativity in order to figure out their career paths. Many musicians who are blessed with multiple passions see this talent as a curse since it engenders a lot of doubt. They grapple with questions including:
• Do I belong in the music field?
• Can I even make a living in this competitive arena?
• Will I ever find the right way to make my mark?
Along with these doubts comes fear: fear of making the wrong choice and being foreclosed from viable options, fear of not knowing where you are headed, fear of not being able to find your place in this universe.
Such fear is understandable. Yet, fear often locks you into status quo, which for a lot of people feels safe. But what is safe? Our culture is changing and the rules are up for grabs so an option that seems viable today may not even be here in 5 years, let alone a lifetime. Think about the musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra who thought they had it made with a lifetime tenure and benefits….
Moreover, acting out of fear restricts your field of vision. And acting/reacting/not acting out of fear actually undercuts your creativity because you put yourself into a small box—and creativity demands that you think outside the box.
So here are some strategies for creative people to help you push through the fear and find your sweet spot.
1. Reflect on Your Best Self
First, start with YOU.
Often, the fear of making a “wrong” decision stems from not knowing what you are really about. The more you know what makes you tick-what you stand for, what you are good at and what you love—the easier it will be to make choices that align with your core. So shine a light on who you are at your core: your values, your strengths and your passions. Discover your strengths. Find your values. When you know who you are at your core, it can provide a compass that will help you navigate the unknown.
Another great exercise is to reflect on what are you like at your best, most creative self. Tap into an experience of flow and create your best-self affirmation. The fact that this affirmation comes out of an actual experience means that whenever your inner critic pops up to hold you back, you have an answer grounded in experience-your best self.
Another advantage of focusing on the positive aspects of your being is that it will actually free up your creative side to take on a bigger, bolder picture. Studies from positive psychology show us that choosing to focus on the positive broadens one’s thinking and expands one’s possibilities and potential. That is why I advocate taking the time to get to know your best self and use that to expand your notion of what is possible.
2. Reframe the Experience of Having Multiple Passions
Armed with these tools of self-reflection, you are now ready to reframe that experience of not knowing what to do with your multiple passions and creative self. Having multiple passions is a gift! So many people in our culture do not know their passions. They forgot what they loved and naturally gravitated to as children. That is one of the joys of working with musicians-they know that they are passionate about music and they are committed to having music in their lives.
Another aspect of reframing is to embrace the fact that discovering how to live one’s passions involves a process and a process takes time. So think of it as a journey of discovery. If you look at your multiple passions as an opportunity, whole new worlds open up. And if you approach your career as a series of experiments, it makes the journey much more manageable and enjoyable.
Now it is time to act. Fear often paralyzes you and makes you afraid to embark on a particular path. For creative people, the worst thing is to remain paralyzed in inaction until you have figured out the “perfect” career because perfection is an illusion.
Explore! Experiment! A lot of musical careers are based on doing a series of projects and having multiple streams of work and income. So delve into the ones that align with your values and strengths. Pay attention to what you love doing. Often, that reflects a strength and playing to strengths is much more empowering than compensating for weaknesses. Take a class. Volunteer at a non-profit whose mission excites you. Take on a side project. Read a book about subject matter that fascinates you.
And if you have a passion outside music, that too needs to be explored and played with. We are entering an era where multiple skill sets are a benefit. Musicians with other skill sets can infuse creativity into the workplace in an age where collaboration, flexible thinking and the ability to integrate “left-brain” analytical thinking with “right-brain” synthetic thinking are increasingly important.
Once you begin to view your career as a series of controlled experiments, all sorts of things begin to change. First and foremost, you begin to feel in charge of your life. You may not know the destination but you know that you are on a journey and that whatever they experience is good information. Even a “negative” experience can tell you what you do not like; by extrapolating, you can figure out what you do like!
And it helps to add to that the notion that there are no mistakes, only opportunities for learning.
4. Connect the Dots
As you go through these experiments, pay attention to what you love. Reflect on the projects and experiences that excite you and bring out your best. What strengths are you using? What makes you feel the passion? What are you good at?
Start to notice the patterns and the through lines in order to connect the dots. Then look for opportunities to apply your learning and live your passions.
So if you find yourself wondering what to do with your career, frustrated that you have too many passions and/or fearful of making the “wrong” choice, relax. Spend some time on self-reflection. Embrace your journey. Explore, experiment and try out some new things. You will know what feels right. And slowly, you can put the pieces together and figure out what direction your career can take. That’s what creative entrepreneurs are good at doing: envisioning possibility and making it happen. It will happen if you have faith in yourself and the process and allow yourself the time to figure it out.