She was always going to be a teacher.
Her understated glasses framed her plain face which was surrounded by straight, brown hair. Her wardrobe epitomized modesty. Her voice, which generally rolled out of her mouth soft and sweet, snapped to stern when it needed to.
It wasn’t the kind of thing where you look back and say “oh, we always knew.” We knew in 8th grade she’d be a teacher. Her parents knew. Her friends knew. She knew.
Teacher. There simply wasn’t another option.
I once had a conversation with a friend which went exactly like this:
Me: It must be nice to have known what you were going to be when you grew up. I mean, you were made to be an chemical engineer.
Friend: Oh I don’t think that’s true at all. You just think that because it’s what I am now.
Friend: Sure. When I was younger, there were all manners of engineering I was interested in.
Gee, I know the feeling.
When I was younger, I was interested in different types of engineering too. Or I could be a painter. Or I could be a construction worker. Or I could be a designer. Or I could be a journalist.
At times I’m envious of those people who have their lives defined at an early age. Another friend saw the word “architect” in the dictionary in 6th grade social studies and guess what? He’s now an architect.
Forget arranged marriages. I’ve known people who seem to have “arranged careers.” Their skill sets were analyzed at an early age, and some unknown power matched them up with the appropriate career, whether that be police officer or football coach or engineer.
I am not an engineer.
I was never “always going to be” anything.
Instead, I live the life of a mad scientist, mixing together elements of careers until I get a reaction which interests me or until something blows up in my face.
Do you know what this week’s theme is? Making custom Snapchat filters. (Reasonably priced, too! Better email me quick, though…)
Last week I was writing a book.
The week before that I was very interested in data analysis.
Round and round we go in search of That-Which-Keeps-Us-From-Boredom. Because boredom is the devil.
(P.S. that link is my first Medium post ever. It’s nowhere near the quality of stuff I put out today, but you should still read it.)
How to Survive as a Mad Scientist
1. Shed the guilt
Just like some people are born with the exact set of skills and run through the exact set of experience to rocket them directly into the perfect career, some of us wander around with a mish-mash of seemingly incompatible abilities, looking to fill a particular niche at a particular time.
Most narratives I hear describe people like us as “undisciplined.” Let’s flip the script a little bit:
- You aren’t wishy washy, you’re flexible.
- You aren’t distracted, you’re open to new experiences.
- You aren’t undisciplined, you’re adventurous.
Could it be that there is no “normal” career?
Could it be that some people were meant to jump from career to career, solving problems, learning new things, and then moving along?
Could it be that you’re one of those people?
2. Use your boredom to guide you
Some people figure out what they’re good at by noticing what they like. Others figure it out by noticing what they don’t like.
Most mad scientists are the latter.
There are two things I’ve not gotten tired of yet — the first is writing. The second is getting tired of things.
3. Sell Yourself to Customers, not Gatekeepers
Mad scientists have difficulty selling themselves because they have difficulty defining themselves.
One of the benefits of this hyper-connected world is we don’t necessarily have to impress 6 or 7 interviewers before we get a shot at a job.
Do I think you should get a full-time job? Sure. I have one. They pay me. It’s awesome.
But I noticed Verizon does not care if I pay them with $30 I got from freelance design work, $50 I got from selling a couch and $90 from my “real job.”
If you’re mad like me, you’ll have more luck (and more fun) cobbling together several different income projects than you will trying to squeeze another 3% raise out of an employer.
Pro tip: when you start these projects, think local. The problem with setting up online shops first is that you have to compete with the best of the best of the best.
Instead, directly reach out to nearby businesses and offer your services. If they were going to google someone, they would have already done it.
4. Multi-project, but don’t multi-task
Mad scientists are chronic non-finishers. Once they reach the point of boredom, they often have trouble getting around to putting the final nail in any coffin.
Austin Kleon has a practice he calls “Productive Procrastination” in which he always has to have at least 2 projects going at once. That way, when he gets bored or stuck at one, he can just bounce to the other.
Again, the key is to keep from boredom. Boredom doesn’t necessarily mean “you’re doing nothing.” It actually should mean “it’s time to do the next thing.”
5. Do not waste what you’ve learned
Many times, we mad scientists make the mistake of assuming physics has nothing to do with statistics and neither of them have anything to do with music which is a COMPLETELY different subject than graphic design.
Wrong. On all accounts.
In my experience, life is one big analogy. The more you learn, the more you learn. Learning code has helped me with animation (and pretty much everything else). Golf helped me learn to code. Music helped me learn how to golf.
Though he is many things, the mad scientist is not wasteful. Every experiment leads to the next. Every finding challenges or validates a set of assumptions that can be applied to every situation.
6. Do not expect to become a specialist
I’ve written about my favorite IT guy before. Here are a few things I’ve heard him talk about doing:
- Master Gardening
- Indian Cooking
- Building a catapult in his back yard
- Creating an irrigation system for a friend (his suggestion, not the friend’s)
- Solving world hunger
- Trading a homeless man a row of sausages for a Colt 45 (the drink, not the gun)
That last one has nothing to do with career or hobby of course, but the point is Pat’s not a specialist. He is an intelligent person with varied interests. He is a mad scientist. Who knows what he’ll do next? Join the peace corps? Write an app? Create the world’s biggest pile of compost? Become a biologist?
Pat probably won’t be the best at anything. He won’t be a specialist.
It doesn’t matter. If Pat can paying the bills while keeping himself entertained, he’s a happy man.
We should all be so lucky.