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The pick 'n' mix careerist

The pick 'n' mix careerist

Twenty-somethings are exploring unconventional career paths by delaying adulthood in favour of life experiences, stumbling through a diversity of jobs, and treating their careers like a pick-n-mix candy shop. Can this possibly be a good thing?

Breadth over depth 


When I picked up the bright yellow book Refuse To Choose: What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything, by Barbara Sher, it’s glimmering title struck a chord deep, deep down within. This book warranted quarter-life soul-searching, and I found numerous others shared this same feeling. Whilst I didn't find the answer in Sher's book, the answer turned out to lie in the journey itself.

David Brooks, a popular New York Times columnist, has coined a new term in the Gen-Y life-cycle to describe people in their 20’s going through a lengthy time of exploration and experimentation.

"During this period", says Brooks, “20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends, and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try on a career and then try another.”

How does this compare with our forebears? If we define adulthood as ‘moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and having a family’, we are bucking the trend with wild abandon. In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40% had done the same.

Delaying adulthood by shopping around for new jobs, exotic journeys and life experiences is a defining characteristic of our generation - favouring breadth of experience over depth - and stumbling upon new and interesting career paths along the way.

One week jobs

Sean Aiken

Have you ever wanted to be a volleyball coach, florist, yoga instructor, dairy farmer, brewmaster, tattoo-parlour assistant, pizza maker, or air force pilot? How about being all of them? Sean Aiken, a Gen-Y Canadian, graduated at the top of his class, but didn’t know what he wanted to do for a career (or his life).

Aiken decided to embark on a bold one-year odyssey: he’d try out a new career every week for a year. With a $1000 monthly allowance from his sponsor,, and after couchsurfing and hitchhiking his way around North America for 52 grueling weeks, his journey took him from being a stock trader with Horowitz & Co in Florida to astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii to air force pilot with the Canadian Air Force in Trenton, Ontario.

Aiken’s journey is a fast-tracked metaphor of the Gen-Y odyssey experience. The average Gen-Y’er has already had over 5 full-time jobs by the time they are 25. It can be a rough-and-tumble experience flitting from job to job, but doing this means that statistically, you are likelier to tumble into a career you love.

The pick 'n' mix careerist


Mixing and matching comes naturally to Gen Y. As children, we picked and mixed our favourite candies from the local supermarket with wild abandon - now we're doing the same with our careers. In twenty-something short years, I have flagrantly mixed various jobs: business journalist, urban planner, slow food chef, denim salesperson, digital media manager; the list continues. Broaden your view of Gen Y, however, and this is not exceptional. Take Dan Walmsley, a comedian, musician and programmer who also hosts an online TV show for nerds, Planet Nerd. Or Dalton Grant, Jnr., who trained in Chinese Natural Medicine, traveled the world as a dancer, then started a boutique Skype-like telco. Dan and Dalton are both accomplished and well-adjusted individuals.

This mix-n-match approach is obviously a lot of fun, but does it translate into career opportunities that you love and are good at? Why not work as a DJ while studying international business? This demonstrates creative flair and proactivity. Volunteering overseas shows compassion and teamwork skills.

So don’t worry about hitting 30 and being a multi-talented and well-traveled yet unemployable bum. All signs say go on your odyssey and soak up as much experience as possible. Employers value diversity of experience, but most importantly they value competency. It will help you demonstrate to hiring managers that your experiences will result in fresh approaches to old problems. Even if it takes a little longer than expected, finding a job you love and are good at will be worth the wait. That is what the odyssey is for!

Want to begin your own career odyssey? To  ensure your experiences are heading you in the right direction, get yourself a WorkLifeGroup career development package.

Guy's photo

EARLY CAREER: Gen Y, Graduates and Early Careerists

Guy has worked as a business journalist, urban planner, slow food chef, denim salesperson and digital media manager, and shares original insights on diverse Gen Y career experiences.

Guy holds a B. Urban Planning & Development (Hons), has worked in 5 different industries and knows what its like to face the challenge of graduate transition. New career choices, personal branding and balancing passions with money are all part of the mix.

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