Growing Up and Job Monogamy.

Monogamy just doesn’t suit me. At least not when we’re talking about careers.

Our culture begins to condition children with ideas about work and vocation at a very early age. As soon as we start asking kids ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, we are pushing them towards a certain goal. The question really only leaves room for one answer rather than multiple dreams. Whether we intend to or not, the message to children is that you need to pick ONE dream or career and stick with that. How would we respond if a child answered by saying that she wanted to be a mother, photographer, engineer, baker, and gardener? Can you aspire to be all of those things?

In her book Becoming, Michelle Obama writes, “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

Growing up is not finite; it’s a continual process. You will never arrive and especially not if you have multiple dreams, passions, and career possibilities. If your dream is to be a teacher, then it’s easy to feel like an adult who has her crap together once you land that first teaching job. If you don’t even know what your dream job is and you feel pulled between five different passions and career fields, then you might never feel that you’ve “arrrived” and that can be wildly discouraging.

In counseling last year, I spent way too many sessions lamenting my difficult relationship with my job. After six years of schooling and chasing the TESOL dream, I felt increasingly dissatisfied with the result. I wasn’t ready to “marry” TESOL even after our lengthy relationship and this caused me such anxiety. If I wasn’t ready to commit and “marry” TESOL after receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the subject, would I ever find a job or career that I was willing to fully commit to? Was that really the goal anyways?

Committing to “love” and work in the TESOL field for the rest of my life felt like too much. It seemed that a monogamous yes to TESOL was like saying NO to all of my other interests and passions. And there are A LOT of other interests and passions.

The six months that I spent working at Rise Authentic Baking Co. had me convinced that I should try to become a professional baker because I love feeding people and creating something with my own two hands. My time spent working at Wealthy St. Bakery affirmed that I love coffee shop culture and had me pining for the chance to own or operate my own coffee house someday. Blogging during my time on the World Race convinced me that writing was something that held potential if I chose to continue developing my skills. And those are just the jobs that I’ve actually done.

What about my affinity for plants that has me convinced I just want to work in a greenhouse? Or my interest in spiritual formation that feels like an invitation to pursue spiritual direction as a career? Or should I somehow make a career out of all the hours that I spend planning every detail of hypothetical trips? Or the dream to own a farm and run a business that values sustainability and community and beautiful spaces? (Alpavender Farms, anyone? 🙂 )

Once I gave myself permission to entertain and make room for these other interests, TESOL didn’t feel so suffocating. At least career-wise, it is okay to date around and I plan to do just that.

Teaching English wasn’t a complete mistake of a career choice. I love my students deeply and there are things about my current job that really do fit me well. The problem was that I felt an insurmountable pressure to find ONE job that aligned with my passions and TESOL just wasn’t living up to the expectations.

In Garden City, John Mark Comer tells us that “Calling isn’t something you choose, like who you marry or what house you buy or what car you buy; it’s something you unearth. You excavate. You dig out. And you discover.” 

And I am still in the process of digging.

Some people might need to dig for that one, single diamond. I thought that TESOL was my diamond, but it just wasn’t. It turned out to be more like a tulip bulb. And when you think something is going to be a diamond, a tulip bulb is ironic and disappointing.

But over time that bulb will be watered and grow into a beautiful, blooming flower. My process of uncovering my calling is going to look a lot more like unearthing roses and dahlias and tulips than discovering a single, precious stone.

I’d rather have a whole garden of different plants and flowers than one single diamond. So I’m embracing the fact that my career path is going to be a unique, zig-zagging one with lots of different interests and passions. On my resumé, baker gets to live side-by-side with adjunct professor and that is a strength not a weakness.

A person with many interests and creative pursuits and no one true calling is called a multipotentialite. The term was coined by Emilie Wapnick of She has a fabulous TED Talk where she explores some of these ideas in a simple, but profound way. Her words helped me articulate here my anxiety around job ‘monogamy’.

Maybe I don’t fit into the traditional mold of one, clear calling and maybe I finally have permission to be okay with that. There is not something inherently wrong with me because I haven’t found my “one thing”. Rather than forcing myself to fall in love with one career, I’m giving myself the space to keep digging and pursuing the passions that fit who God has created me to be.


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