For a long time, my biggest fear was running out of time to master a skill. I know this sounds dramatic because I’m still in my 20s. But time is literally always running out and according to experts, I have to spend 10,000 hours to really consider myself a master at anything.
The only thing I’ve spent 10,000 hours doing is listening to 90s R&B. My natural curiosity and inclination to explore different topics makes it unlikely that I’ll spend 10,000 hours on any single skill. And that was terrifying, because I want to be good. I want to build a career I’m proud of.
If we’re judging by traditional career paths, it’s pretty evident that I’ve done this all wrong. In 6 years, I’ve worked in three separate industries at a few different companies doing very different jobs each time. Society and every expert in mastery will tell you I should settle down, pick a lane and stay there. But I can’t imagine a world where what I do now is what I’m doing in another 10 years. If the past is any indication of the future, it’s impossible.
Of course, the past isn’t really an indication of the future. No one who carried around a Nokia brick phone could have predicted the iPhone. The places I’ve been don’t need to feed directly into where I’m going.
The first time I thought I knew what I wanted to do, I was working at an online media company. I had interned for them in college and after graduation, there wasn’t a full-time spot for me, but they wanted to use me as a freelancer. I didn’t have an exact title, so I basically did whatever job they needed. I wrote entertainment articles and product reviews, I populated a gift guide every month, wrote sales copy, observed editorial calendar creation and pulled photos to create galleries of hairstyle inspiration. It was a weird job, but it was incredible.
At the time, I was the only one of my friends who lived a freelance lifestyle. Everyone else was working in their corporate jobs, they had health insurance and a direct career path. I barely had set working hours, let alone a stable budget. I figured everyone else was doing it, so I should give corporate life a chance. I moved back to San Diego, and started working on the second career I thought I could be good at. I got a job as an editorial assistant at a small publishing house and assimilated into the normal 9-5 culture.
Even though a publishing house that specializes in ENT textbooks has nothing to do with the latest Kim Kardashian drama, I still had all the skills necessary to be an editorial assistant. I knew time management and prioritizing better than anyone else my age because of my years as a freelancer. I knew the fundamentals of editorial calendar creation and could anticipate what my boss was looking for in proposals. I got good quickly because of where I’d been and the fact that I brought a different perspective.
The thing about the publishing industry, though, was that it was simultaneously becoming more important and less relevant. Every day, more people were circumventing the gatekeepers in traditional publishing in order to self-publish. People distributed information through blogs and newsletters and social media sites. Content marketing might have made reading and writing evermore popular, but traditional publishing was taking a huge hit.
It didn’t make sense to dedicate myself to a career in a dying industry, so I switched focus on the third thing I thought I could be good at.
My new career was based in content marketing. It seemed like the perfect marriage of my experience. I would take the skills I learned picking articles and crafting headlines that connected with people and made them want to share, add it to the organization skills I learned by coordinating the efforts of dozens of people to maintain an editorial calendar (plus my natural affinity for social media platforms) and all the sudden, I’m a content marketer.
It’s at this point in the article that I feel I should mention my career has been messier and more meandering than this article presents. Additional "side hustles" have included bartending, co-authoring an art book and working in hotels. All of which have gave me invaluable insights, including people are animals who cannot be trusted in hotel rooms. But there’s only so much attention you're going to give me, so we can't get into everything I learned.
Making the decisions to change careers and focus on new skills every few years is never easy. I watch friends collect anniversaries and move through their path with relative ease while decisions I make, jobs I take, new cities I explore seem to make less and less sense. I’ve spent more than a few nights wondering if there’s something wrong with me that I can’t just stick to something.
But then I sit next to someone on an airplane and I instantly have a way to relate to their passions. Or my sister launches a swimwear company and I can help in more than one department. Or I gather enough experience to write a book about mastering a job interview because if there’s one thing you learn when you change careers often, it’s how to nail an interview.
And I realize all of those things matter too. They might matter more than moving up the ranks of a predetermined path. Eventually, my career will be one of my own making with unique experiences, a broad network of people and interesting stories to tell that won’t sound like everyone else’s. It’s not always easy to remember that, especially when constant imposter syndrome runs rampant in my brain, but it’s still true. And it deserves to be said out loud, often, just in case there’s someone else crafting a personalized career path and wondering if it’s a huge mistake.
To that person (and myself, in a few weeks when I’ll need this post as much as they do), I want to say: the only thing that matters is doing the work. Staying consistent in following your curiosity and putting in effort. Writing more. Reading more. Trying harder. Working smarter. Relating to more people. Using more empathy.
Mastering the skill of being yourself will be more than enough to build a career you’re proud of.