When you start your career as a teenager in Nigeria, in most cases, you have no idea of what you want to be when you grow up. I was sure that I was supposed to be in the process of becoming something, but I couldn’t see a path in front of me.
I knew what my “passion” was. I liked to be noticed. I liked public speaking, writing and creating content and scripts and I knew I was good at them. What I did not know was how to turn this into a career path. How many of these talents would translate into a plausible, practical career – let alone one I might enjoy – was beyond me. Yet, I didn’t want to choose just one of my interests and let all the others go. That sounded like a horrifying commitment. What if I chose the wrong thing?
Like all young people, I sometimes got ‘career advice’ from the adults in my life. They meant well, but most of the suggestions were either uninspiring: “get a good job and work your way up at a prominent company”. Or so vague that they weren’t suggestions at all: “just follow your interests and things will work themselves out”.
Here are a few things I learned from the experience:
Your Path Doesn’t Have To Be the Same with Others
There was a time when you could study something, get a job in the same field and be set for life. That is no longer true. Many of us end up working in industries that are very different from what we studied in college and very few of us go straight down a linear path. We zigzag about, apply our skills laterally and experiment as we go.
It can be scary that the path from being a student to a working professional isn’t very clear or obvious. But hey, you’re free! It leaves you room for creativity, which equals endless possibilities.
Take the pressure off yourself. In the beginning, it may seem like nothing is working, but be consistent at what you are doing and it would all sort itself out.
You Don’t Have to Choose
I know that the anxiety-provoking notion that you have to choose a specialty in order to be successful is weighing heavily on you right now.
Good news! It isn’t true. As you grow in your career, you will meet amazing people who are doing all kinds of things: a programmer, actor, comedian, author, a filmmaker, teacher, carpenter, lecturer, marketer, blogger… Some of these people take on multiple roles or shift between professional identities out of necessity. Many others make the choice intentionally because the variety suits them.
Inventing Your Own Job is a Thing
As you grow older, some people will act like they have all the answers. But the truth is that the economy is changing so fast that nobody quite knows what’s going on. New technology is drastically altering the ways we work. With modern tools at our disposal, it is now possible to self-publish a best-seller, teach science to people on the other side of the globe, have a thriving online textile shop or bring an invention to market without investors.
Think outside the box. There are loads of cool things you can do in the fields that interest you but you might learn about by yourself. If you see a need, know that you can be the one to address it. If you know what you want to do, believe me when I say you can figure out how to evolve that passion into meaningful work. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path and invent your own career.
You are most likely to jump around a bunch of things and somehow, every of it would lead to a particular track of what you have always wanted to be. Your career would, most likely, navigate you and find its way through the intricacies of your talents and interests.
I’ve had to get comfortable with the idea that I will never really be able to pinpoint exactly what I do, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I love that my professional identity is always evolving and I get to explore so many different things!
Learn to be comfortable with not knowing what you’re going to be. Granted, it’s hard to get cozy with uncertainty, but you can’t actually know the future anyway.
Be you. You’ve got this.