Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Wide Achiever?

Alden Wicker

wide achieverRoman Krznaric has been a journalist, college professor, gardener, carpenter, tennis coach and community worker.

It may seem like a scattered CV, but Krznaric seems more than happy, especially with his current role as founder of The School of Life, a cultural enterprise that teaches classes on such subjects as “How to Be Confident” and “How to Make Love Last.”

His only regret? That he hung onto certain jobs too long when he didn’t enjoy them.

His latest book, “How to Find Fulfilling Work,” not surprisingly, advocates taking a bold and varied approach to picking out the right job.

We convinced Krznaric to take a break from finishing up his next book to talk to us about how everyday people like you can find truly meaningful careers. Hint: It’s not the way you might think. 

LearnVest: In your opinion, what is wrong with the way most people view their ideal careers?

Roman Krznaric: A lot of people think that we each have a single vocation that’s just waiting out there for us to discover. If only we could have an epiphany. But the reality is that most people don’t have those epiphanies. We don’t find our vocations; we grow them through experiments.

Vincent van Gogh wasn’t always a painter. He started out as an art dealer, then he was an elementary school teacher and an evangelical teacher in the Belgian coal mines before he came across drawing and painting. But he did a lot of experimenting before he got there.

RELATED: Why I Left My Career in Finance for a Nonprofit

So the path to the perfect career isn’t as straight as we’ve been led to believe?

The biggest mistake people tend to make when thinking about finding a new career is following the “plan and implement” model of change. You spend a lot of time researching different industries. You draw up lists of personal strengths, weaknesses and ambitions. You match your profile to particular professions, and then start sending out applications. But you haven’t done any experiential learning—you haven’t stepped into the real world by doing things like job shadowing, interning or volunteering. What we really need to do is act first and reflect later.

Should everyone aim to have a diverse career like yours?

For some people, there is one thing. They decide that they want to be a veterinarian when they’re six—and that’s all they want to do. But an increasing proportion of people are feeling that plowing a relatively narrow furrow isn’t nurturing the many sides of who they are. For those people, it’s worth thinking about trying to achieve wide instead of high—that is, do several jobs at the same time.

  • mara

    I love this!! For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t focus all my energy in one career path. I am currently a scientist, a fitness instructor and a private tutor but I have been a college professor, a painter, a tennis coach, a choreographer and even danced professionally for a few years.
    I completely agree that turning your hobbies and interests into a job gives you the flexibility to find your own income if for some reason your main job has to let you go or even if you need some extra income for some large purchase.
    I admire the people out there who makes a living freelancing 100%. If I stop enjoying my main job I hope that I can be one of those people in the future :)

  • Matthew Gordon

    I’ve been working toward this for years! The meaning/risk-seeking/discipline combination has been huge, I’ve found. One of the best parts of being a portfolio worker (a term I learned from this article) is it never gets boring.

  • Randall Redd

    I often wonder what the your annual take home can be from this. I recently started to embark on my comedy career while being a project manager. Doing what you love is incredibly fulfilling, but how do you also fulfill your household dreams? (home, car, luxuries, etc)

    Those are some of the questions I would ask people in careers I’m interested in.

    BTW…’s a link to how I proposed to my girlfriend at a comedy show!

  • Maria

    About sunk costs… Iy really depends how you look at it. I spent 10 years doing basic research and earning a PhD and then decided I’d had enough and changed paths. But I had a great time during those ten years, enjoyed everything I learned and gained some skills that are perfectly transferable to my new passions!

  • Jo Atherton

    Finally! An article with speaks my language. For the majority of my working life I have been a portfolio worker, because I thought I was creating a working life around the needs of my children. In the past 18 months I have returned to working for just one employer on a full-time basis. I’ve never felt more unhappy or lonely. I now realise that I was a portfolio worker because it brought me happiness to wear many hats throughout the day and to plot my own life. It’s time to have a difficult conversation with my managers. They have given me a fantastic opportunity but in my heart I’m a wide achiever. Thank you

  • Sharon KhunKhun

    Great article….wanted to share this also:

  • guest

    I agree with a lot of this. I got my degree in accounting and realized fairly quickly after I worked in the field for about a year that it wasn’t the right career for me. However, I was able to use my knowledge to become an agency recruiter searching for Accounting professionals. I was able to keep my “investment” and take on the type of work I enjoyed (socializing, staying busy, not as much paperwork, etc.). I think that if you make the right choices, you won’t lose your “investment.” You may just take on a career that you never expected initially. I’ve had this career for 10 years now, and still love it.

  • pigbitinmad

    This is great for lawyers and accountants. But for people with sketchy work history in dead industries (the music business, film distribution) it still is not much help. I would gladly work 7-10 part time jobs but they all want you to be “on call” 24 hours a day 7 days a week with no regularity from week to week. I have one part-time job, but cannot for the life of me find another one that will allow me to work a set schedule that does not conflict with my current job.
    I really would rather do something where I do not have to interact with people all the time.