You can be many things.

You can be many things.

When you’re 25 (like I am) and in grad school to be specializing in a field (like I am), the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” should be a straightforward one- after all, you’ve decided to spend 5-6 (or more) years of your life training to be a scientist, spending somewhere around 50 hours per week on your research. What kind of person would put themselves through this if they didn’t want to be a scientist at the end of the day? Or at the very least, if they didn’t absolutely want to have a career that’s somewhere in the realm of science?

Maybe it’s because of this:

I think this talk does a better job of explaining why than I’ve ever been able to. I stumbled across this talk on the TED website this evening, and while I’ve often found interesting talks on the site, few have resonated with me as much as this one. It’s always been a challenge to explain to people- whether fellow scientists or well-meaning friends and family- that I like science, and yes I’m happy in grad school, but maybe I don’t want to be in science for the rest of my life (but yes, I’m still going to get my PhD).

Even at 25, committing to doing one thing for the rest of my life is not something that interests me- though not from an “it’s scary” point of view, but instead from a “why is that what I need to do” one. I absolutely agree with Emilie Wapnick when she says that it’s ingrained in our culture to expect that people self-select into one career for their entire life. It’s a shame that people are turned off from exploring diverse passions- but maybe more unfortunate that people who don’t give up on these things after a certain age are either questioned or misunderstood.

Why can’t I be studying science but spend much of my free time practicing languages, writing, and traveling? I also agree with Emilie when she characterizes “multipotentialites” as people who get easily bored with the ONE THING they swear they’re most interested in…until they’re not. In my case, that boredom often comes across as indecision, because I can’t articulate exactly what I want to do. However, most people who are indecisive are that way because they haven’t found something that interests them, while in my case it’s that a lot of things do.

So when someone on a big stage like TED takes a stand against this detrimental (I would argue) status quo, I can’t help but nod and smile. I’m glad that there are people out there who think about this the same way that I do. And I’m hopeful that the more of us speak out, the less questionable it will be for people with diverse interests to keep up with them past what’s currently considered to be appropriate.

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