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professional not a cog

From the moment we’re born, we’re wired to soak up information like sponges. Since before I can remember, I’ve been fascinated to learn new things and share them. From classifying insects to playing musical instruments to devising (and testing) Rube Goldberg machines, it was learning for learning’s sake. Along the way, I was taught that excelling in certain subjects made you a “great fit” for certain careers. But this also made me think, “If I don’t excel in certain subjects, does this mean I shouldn’t be a zoologist, or a musician, or a mechanical engineer? What if those subjects still interest me?”

Twenty years later, I’m gainfully employed in my field of study and enjoying the work I do (vocational counselors everywhere, rejoice!). But I also know I haven’t “made it” and sometimes find it difficult to explain what I “do.” This is good.

We aren’t square pegs to be reluctantly fit into round holes. The more I see technology, industry, and culture evolve, the more I believe that many people shouldn’t—and eventually won’t—work toward fitting into any one job. Reading this BBC article helped me connect the dots about the next generation of jobs. “Instead of identifying your job role or description, you [will be] constantly adding skills based on what is going to make you more employable,” says Jeanne Meister, New York-based co-author of The Future Workplace Experience. “The biggest barrier to adapting is mindset.”

Indeed, we must keep learning to stay marketable. This can be daunting…unless we decide to make it fun. At the same time, technology is making it easier to freelance skills across multiple projects and clients, enabling more of us to be both strong contributors and our own bosses. And then there’s the idea of “internal freelancing” where workers are encouraged to choose their next projects based on their skills, or skills they want to develop. According to the BBC article I mentioned, “IT giant Cisco and financial services firm MasterCard are testing so-called ‘internal mobility platforms’ that allow employees to cherry-pick projects to fill specific gaps for the company rather than staying in a more structured role.”

At some point, it’s worth asking ourselves if we’re happy doing what we do. And maybe instead of asking “What do you do?”, we should ask “What do you want to do next?”

As for what’s next, writer/artist Austin Kleon sums it up well. “You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called ‘imposter syndrome.’ If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started ‘being creative,’ well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.”

What do you want your encore to be?

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