Back during my first year of uni, a tutor with an ego complex the size of the Titanic told everyone in the class that our ambitions to break into our dream industries were unrealistic and that we would most likely not make it through this class without screwing up and bursting into tears because of said screw up.
Thinking back on it now makes me want to roll my eyes at the overly dramatic, “I am Gordon Ramsay, hear me roar” life advice.
But for a 17-year-old fresh out of high school it was a startling truth – one repeated over the years in every lecture I attended and by every professor and tutor I came across. The pattern went something like: you will not have a stable career; you will change jobs at least twice before you turn 30; you will be flexible and learn skills that will enable you to adapt in the changing workforce because you will end up in a completely unrelated field.
It’s common knowledge that the workplace is changing, and all those hard truths must have done something because most of my generation recoil at the idea of a 9 to 5, five-day a week job set up. The thought of staying in one job forever is terrifyingly depressing.
Instead, we’re more comfortable with changing jobs, trying on different hats and continually reinventing our workplace identities – the PR consultant, the marketing assistant, the writer, the accounts manager – the list is endless.
We were schooled to become ‘dabblers’. We were told that rather than investing in one thing so that we can become the absolute best we can be, it is instead better to learn a bit of everything. After all, life is about not putting all your eggs into one basket because who knows when technology will render the basket redundant?
It’s not just about being adaptable in the big bad world though. Somewhere along the way, in between those hard truths about acquiring life skills, the slim employment prospects and generic classes like International Relations and Ideas in History, we unknowingly cultivated (or did they teach us this, too?) a restlessness – a desire to explore a myriad of career paths and work outside of an office cubicle. A desire to never be in the same place for too long and never do the same thing if you can help it. They told us to keep our options open (the more the better), which we took as an invitation to embrace a particular kind of wanderlust. Not that of our parents generation – like hopping on a plane and backpacking across Europe – but rather an ongoing voyage of professional discovery, bouncing from job to job, never settling for too long.
But will we ever reach that final destination? Does it all form part of some mirage of work culture?
Sure, at the moment, the idea of having what they call a ‘portfolio’ career based on skills where I can just job hop from one industry to the next sounds much more appealing than being stuck in the same 9 to 5 routine. Like other dabblers I want to do everything and be everything.
But being everything means that, ultimately, you are nothing – you are not one thing, and you are not the sum of all your different jobs, all your different skills and tidbits of industry knowledge. What happens when you’re pushing 30-something and you’re still job-hopping because you haven’t found something that sticks?
And then I wonder if this really is a comfortable weightlessness, the fact that I won’t be bound to one industry or career path, or if I’ll end up aching and tired from all that moving around chasing something unstable and apparently illustrious? If I’ll be over it?
That’s the problem with being a dabbler – you’re always occupying the in-between places, planting one foot on each side of the proverbial fence.
But I daresay we like it. Because although we may be tired and aching one day, at least it will be from chasing dreams and collecting experiences rather than from being stuck in some unshakable rut.
It was never about finding ‘it’…that elusive dream ideal.
It was about realising there was something else – something more than the degree we enrolled in, other than our single vision of a single dream.