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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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