Conflict of Interest
I have noticed a troubling trend in our culture, particularly in my generation, that prizes itself in becoming an “expert” in one thing. If you’re not living, breathing, eating, sleeping your ONE thing, then you must not really be committed to it. Perhaps it’s the education inflation that has caused so many to believe that if you do not focus on one specific path for three degrees, you’re not worthy enough.
What about those of us who find ourselves interested in a vast array of subjects and passions? What do you say to the decorated engineer who performs off-Broadway, the PhD cognitive psychologist who instructs scuba diving, or the conservatory musician who has a business in portrait photography? Does the one skill outweigh the other? We call those people “talented”, but deep down on the inside how many of us are judging them for disrupting their focus on the one career we consider superior? Sometimes it seems we teach our children that having multiple passions or different kinds of jobs is a conflict of interest.
These types of people make our culture uncomfortable because we pigeon-hole ourselves into identifying each other by what we do and not who we are. What is the first thing you ask people after their name?
“Hi, Bob. What do you do?”
“I’m a professor of history.”
NO, Bob. You are not a professor of history. You are Bob: a talented, limitless individual with a soul, a personality, a family, and a passion for history. You happen to teach history, but your job is not what defines you.
Is it inadequacy that keeps people from recognizing that it’s okay to be good at multiple things? Or have we come to believe that we are cogs in a machine, serving one purpose our entire lives until we wither away?
Two Archetypes in the workforce Drama
We define “Professionals” and “experts” as people who dedicate their lives to their craft, often portrayed in media as people who work at the expense of their families or personal health. Workaholics will put in 80-120 hour work weeks to maintain the normal quota of their job. They may check their company stock on the weekends and never unplug from their email. They might be doing something noble like saving lives or something exciting like designing the next cutting-edge piece of technology. While their passion is undoubtedly in their work, I hope they get a chance to pursue outside interests. Some of them might not care to, which is perfectly fine — but at what point are their work hours a measurement by which others judge normalcy?
On the other end of the spectrum, talented mothers are kept from having jobs and careers they desire because those jobs are too inflexible to allow them to work unusual hours or leave the office at 2 pm to pick up their kids from school. I hear a common phrase from young women: “I don’t want X career because I won’t be able to have it and raise kids.” Do you know how many women shut down their job options before they even have prospects for marriage, let alone children? We have effectively cut our workforce talent in half because we have convinced women they can’t be good at both motherhood and careers. In many ways, the fear many women express is justified; it is difficult to be an attentive parent and work full time when jobs are so inflexible. This is a deeper issue for another time.
Both of these instances pain me, because Americans have so much to offer and we stifle creativity for the sake of efficiency.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve already discussed what it looks like to be a part-time musician rather than a full-time musician and the stigma that comes with it in my earlier post, Occasional Musician Complex. While my life circumstances have changed and I can again primarily focus on music, I still find that I am allowing myself to pursue other passions and find income that way. I am happy to have my hands in many pots at once. It’s not easy by any means, but it is so rewarding.
In Renaissance times, the people who were multi-disciplinary were considered superior because they tried to hone all of their skills, not just the one. I am a Renaissance woman. I am completely frustrating to people who want to pigeon-hole me. I am not easily defined, unable to be labeled. I am multi-talented and multi-disciplinary. I do not apologize for my expansive projects and my passions, because I work hard to make them worth something, even if it is only for my enjoyment. I am a cellist, yes, I am a sojourner, yes, I am a marketer, yes, but I am so much more.
Tell me, if you are a child of the infinite God, does that make you infinite?
(No, but it makes your joy infinite.)
Or as Walt Whitman so eloquently expresses in Song of Myself,
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
At least, this is what I tell myself…Otherwise I’d be paranoid I have undiagnosed ADHD. The point is, no matter who you are and what you love to do, go forth and conquer it all.