Jo Seagar: career choices
Some of us are hardwired for a particular path in life, while others follow several routes – Jo Seagar looks at the value of both options.
Ialways knew my son Guy was going to be a big-machinery diesel mechanic. His favourite book was The Little Yellow Digger and when he was four he negotiated with me to have a day off kindy so he could go with Bob the grader driver to work on our metal rural road.
Bob drove graders and bulldozers for the county council and little Guy had been chatting to him for as long as we could remember. Bob would let Guy sit on the bulldozer and it was often parked in our front paddock for the weekend. Guy was put “in charge” of the vehicle and reported to Bob on Monday morning that all was well… apart from the time we had to confess that the dog lead had accidentally “fallen in” the fuel tank when young Guy had been using it to check the fuel level. A complicated recovery plan was carried out by Bob and Guy’s dad, Ross, using barbecue tongs and the trusty old wire coathanger method. All was eventually well again and I’m sure the council were none the wiser. But it all set into motion Guy’s lifelong passion for diesel machinery.
All through school Guy was focused on a career in that field, and now we get phone calls and emails from a boy who’s living the dream. Mines in Australia, combine-harvesting in Canada and, the latest plan, motorway construction in Siberia – he’s a very happy chap indeed.
However, not everyone is so sure of what career path to follow. People always ask children, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” When you’re five, an astronaut or fireman or ballerina are common responses, but it’s great – and kind of cute – if, like my son Guy, you know exactly where you’re heading.
I was not in that category. I chopped and changed all the time in my youth, one minute wanting to be a pilot, then a chicken farmer, then an air hostess. I went through dreams of owning a hotel, being an interior designer, paediatrician, photo-journalist, nanny to the royal family, anthropologist, archaeologist, teacher and many, many more. I really wanted to be like my friends who seemed to know inherently what they wanted but, alas, for me it was a frequently changing script. Now I realise this is not necessarily a bad thing. People like me are known as “multipotentialites” – yes, we’ve even got a name for it these days.
It was previously considered a bit of a useless situation. “Why can’t you settle and concentrate on one thing and jolly well get on with it?” This was often the gist of my school reports and I think I had the record at high school for the most visits to the careers advisor. It wasn’t that I had no interests; it was more a case of having so many. Today this is seen as being quite innovative, but not so much in the early 1970s.
It’s great if you can narrow your vision and become a specialist in one area, but we also need multipotentialite people – the creative thinkers, those who get out of that box and come up with fresh ideas. There are some tremendous strengths in being eclectic thinkers. I know several people who’ve combined not-obvious parallel careers – a concert violinist who’s also a maths teacher, a newspaper journalist who’s a doctor by day, and a minister of religion who’s an airline pilot. Not everyone is wired to be a specialist and I think a jack-of-many-trades is a desirable thing to be.
I loved my decade of nursing, but I also wanted to explore new areas. I went to cooking school in London, then chef training in Paris. I came home to New Zealand and, with a girlfriend, opened a restaurant. In a blink I’d started to write cooking columns for magazines and then cookbooks. Before you knew it, I was in your home each week on the telly. Who would have thought?
In my own career experience, nothing has been a waste of time. There was no real plan, but every move led onto the next thing. Because I identify with these multipotentialites, I’ve learned that careers are forever changing and the skills I have honed are all to do with rapid learning, being passionate about what I’m doing, embracing and understanding my inner wiring and celebrating adaptability.
Instead of asking children what they want to be when they grow up, perhaps we could rephrase that to, “How are you going to help people and what problems do you think you’ll be able to solve in the future?”
I ask children this question all the time, because I’m still looking for ideas and new possibilities. It’s never too late to retrain and learn a new trick.
There are some tremendous strengths in being eclectic thinkers.