"I've been thinking about interior design, or maybe architecture. Because I really like math, but I also want to be able to do something creative. But then I'm worried about job opportunities, I know it's ridiculous to try to get a job in those fields."
I had a hunch, so I asked, "Do you have any programming or web development experience?"
"It's funny you ask that because earlier this week I started teaching myself to code online. I like it!" Her face lit up.
"And have you ever heard about interaction design?" She smiled. And then proceeded to tune out the rest of our session because it's clear I had hit a nerve and she just wanted to go google.
You can have both
We often feel like we have to choose security and practicality OR something that lights up our interests. There's a feeling that the jobs that make a difference don't make a living, or that to make money you have to sell your soul. But when you think creatively about how to combine both what you need and what you want and love, the possibilities get pretty exciting.
Select the best/most important of each category
Go back to your lists that you made in Part 2 of the Passions Vs. Practicality series. Circle the things that are most important to you in your interest list, your values list, and your list of practical needs. I like to do this part with colored pens. I find my brain gets more sparky and creative when I use markers and paper, but do whatever gets your creative energy moving. You're going to do some brainstorming around these 2 or 3 things that are most important from each list. I like to take a new piece of paper and put these things in the center with big bubbly circles around them.
Now, brainstorm. List on your paper all the examples of the types of activity or skills you could engage in that relate to the interests, values or needs that you've listed on your paper. Go crazy and think of as many as you can, this is a brainstorm and the rules of the brainstorm are to go for quantity, not quality, and the weirder the better. It might help to start with activities that you've already engaged in that exemplify your interests, values, or needs. As you generate both old and new ideas for activities that line up with each of these three categories, look for ways to link these together in interesting ways. Could you combine preschool teaching and writing poetry in an interesting way that suggests a job option? Or what comes to mind if you pair up civil engineering and video gaming and family? Or writing and justice? Or travel and finance? Create interesting combinations, and allow yourself to wonder about those.
Look at what you have on your paper or screen or in your doodles, and see if there are any combinations of activities that stand out to you. Is there anything that feels particularly intriguing? Or maybe everything feels really nonsensical and impossible, so what is the combination that feels the most ridiculous to you? You want to start with this combo, the one that feels either the most interesting or the most crazy if you don't have one that's interesting.
Now, go do some research. Tell your friends or family or an instructor that you did this brainstorming exercise with your interests, needs, and values, and you came up with this combination, and you're wondering what career options this combo might suggest. Need help making sense of your doodles? Post them to me on Twitter or in a comment on this post. I'd love to see what you come up with.
The key to doing this well is to not censor yourself, to not let your "shoulds" get in the way (remember we already kicked those out in Practicality Vs Passion Part 2!). Allow your creative right brain to take over here, and connect with others from that creative place. Don't worry about whether your crazy job that combines these things actually exists, just imagine what that could look like if it DID exist.
The final step in this process is creating your own path forward. Sometimes, like in the case of my student with a secret interest in web development and a strong passion for creative design, there's an obvious option that illuminates when you share your ideas, interests, and value combinations with others. But sometimes you'll end up creating your own job, your own internship, maybe even your own company. Because, after all, when you can't find something that fits, it's time to buck the trend and create something new.