letting go of the pressure to just be one thing and leaning into becoming a multi-hyphenate

We need more everyday multi-hyphenates

This year, I’ve been going to a lot of networking events, and the first thing people usually ask is “What do you do?”

This question was easy to answer when I had a full-time job because I had a single title I could identify with. “I’m a content marketing manager,” I would proudly say.

But now that I’m a full-time freelancer, still in marketing but actively exploring all of the other things that I’m passionate about, this question has felt surprisingly stifling.

I’ve felt the pressure to “pick” one thing. Like I could only identify with a single title. Am I a writer? A content strategist? A creative producer? A project manager? All of these things are things that I’m actively doing and passionate about, so choosing to align myself with just one has me feeling the squeeze.

The pressure to decide + commit is intense

I think this is a common feeling among my fellow perfectionists, overachievers, and just generally curious people.

I just realized after reading the book The Perfictionst’s Guide to Losing Control that I am in fact a “messy perfectionist.” So that means that I’m not scared of constantly picking up new hobbies, skills, and certifications.

And while sometimes this is a source of pride, at times I feel almost embarrassed. As if someone is going to be watching from the sidelines saying, “oh god, here Hannah goes again, picking up a new career path.”

If I were to be honest when someone asks what “what I am” or “what I do” and ran through the whole list, I’d worry that I seem flighty and noncommittal. And that they think I’m not an expert at anything.

So ultimately, this tendency to find my “one thing” and stick to a single title is a response to a fear of judgement.

But is this safeguarding myself from judgement really worth it in the end? I’d argue not.

As I’m going through this intense period of self-discovery this year (arguably a professional identity crisis), I’ve realized that this pressure is dumb.

I don’t want to tie myself down to a single thing, and I don’t think it’s even necessary.

As crazy as it sounds, I really think that we can have it all. If a famous person can be an actor/single/model/philanthropist, then why are we not, as “regular people” allowed to be multi-hyphenates, too?

The dangers of the “one thing” mindset

We’re encouraged to find our thing and stick with it. That basically ensures that once you commit — whether in your schooling or in your career — you’re stuck. It feels like you’re incentivized to not explore your full range of interests outside of the one path you took.

And what does this lead to? A miserable career and lack of fulfillment.

Even if you generally like your career and don’t feel the need to make a full pivot, denying yourself of the opportunity to give new things a shot blocks you from looking at your existing career (and life) in a different way that lets you customize it to your own interests.

Consider how many software engineers feel like their label in their career is that and that alone. They shut themselves off from writing on Medium, from becoming a certified fitness instructor, from learning to draw on Procreate. All because it doesn’t “fit.”

I just dont think it’s even necessary

In this year of (panicked) soul searching, I’ve been doing a lot of creeping on LinkedIn and reading nonfiction books, trying to figure out what to do with my life.

And I’ve realized that many of the most successful people have somewhat of a lack of focus.

I’ll see people on LinkedIn who are doing cool stuff at cool companies. I look at their background and discover they’ve hopped from industry to industry, have all kinds of different certifications, and they post about more than just one single topic.

And take Bridgit Mendler, for example. She’s the ultimate case of, “I’m gonna do whatever I want.” She was an actor and singer at the beginning of her career, she then got her doctorate in law and psychology AT THE SAME TIME from two different schools, and she now founded a space company.

And there are countless stories of people in the book Creative Confidence where people in their careers lean into other areas that they’re interested in. This either leads them to a totally new career path or fuels them to dig deeper into their current career path, just in a different way.

So if you really look at it, having multiple “things” isn’t going to hold you back.

In fact, this lack of focus can actually be an asset

Even if giving yourself the permission to explore new things leads you to totally pivot your career, you’re not starting from square one.

There is likely some overlap in your previous career path and your new career path. But even more than that, since you’re bringing whole different background to the table than the people who took the more “traditional” path to get there, you have a unique perspective to offer.

Consider people pivoting to video game design. Whether someone was a children’s book illustrator before, a dance instructor, or a marketer. Those unique skillsets, even if on the surface they seem unrelated, can give you a special edge.

Another example from the book Creative Confidence:

There was a guy who was a researcher at Stanford and decided to take some classes at the d.school, which is all about experiments in design thinking. After going through the program, he realized that he wanted to become an entrepreneur instead. So he dropped out of his Ph.D program.

Those skills (and passion) as a researcher don’t just go away. Instead, he was able to take a highly research-centered approach to building the company. This was his way of finding the perfect way to mix existing skills and new passions.

But like I said, you don’t even have to change careers to reap the benefits of this.

You could be in marketing and love marketing, but you just really want to learn to code. Or you want to build your public speaking skills. Maybe you want to learn to teach yoga. All of these skills can develop alongside your marketing career, and could maybe even help you hone in on the specific parts of marketing that you like. Or they could just generally help with your leadership skills.

And of course there’s always the best benefit of all: better mental health.

We’re human. We’re not made to invest 100% of ourselves into one single thing. Even if you pick up a million different hobbies that contribute absolutely nothing to your career. If this outlet gives you confidence, health benefits, strength, courage, etc., you’re going to show up better in all areas of life.

Follow your instinct with your career — and maybe that doesn’t include a single title.

If there’s one thing I want to encourage you, since you’ve made it this far in this post, is to just trust your gut.

Don’t say no to something just because you already have your “thing.” Let yourself explore.

And maybe even let go of the pressure to have a single title. That’s what I’m really grappling with right now.

Although by trade I’m a content marketer, I’m also a productivity enthusiast who loves to build systems and processes. But I’m also a content creator. And I would love to learn to build websites too. Maybe even get my Lagree certification. Instead of trying to Frankenstein together some title that somehow encapsulates all of this, maybe I just list out the things that I do?

Maybe my name is my title.

And maybe I let go of the fear that I’m going to be seen as less than just because I don’t claim a single thing.

Like I said before, the rich and famous shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to have all of these random titles and not have their validity as a professional questioned.

So basically, I think a little bit of chaos and lack of focus in your career is okay. I actually think we should encourage it.

Let’s just let go of the embarrassment and the pressure and just do whatever tf we want.

This was a summary of an episode of the Type A/Type B Podcast. Want to listen to the full episode, or check out other episodes centered at the intersection of productivity and creativity? 

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