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ASK RAMIT: “I’m stuck! How do I pick between two passions?”

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One of our generation’s defining problems is TOO MANY OPTIONS.

Our parents don’t get this. They’re like, “Go get a good job! They have really good benefits!” I once went home during college and a family friend was visiting. He worked at a very large consumer-packaged goods company and believed I was a lost soul who needed advice. Imagine my face when he gave me this advice:

“Ramit, you should join this company. You work here 30 years, you’ll have a MILLION DOLLARS when you retire!”

I looked at him in disbelief. A million? That’s it? 30 years from now? Like a good Indian son, I sat there quietly, spooning myself more keema and baingan bharta (white people, look it up).

See, we don’t WANT to work at the same company for 30 years. But at the same time, we’re stuck choosing among 2, 3, sometimes 10 different ideas. What if we choose the wrong one and close all the other doors?

I got a really good question from IWT reader Sean B. and suggested how I would approach it:

“I am stuck between two conflicting career paths. I already have an undergrad degree in film production, but I’m stuck outside of New York and LA in the Midwest with no film jobs. I’m getting disillusioned with the lack of career progress. I’m conflicted about pursuing a major passion of mine for most of my life: science. I keep thinking of going back to school for another degree in science, but can’t be specific beyond that. How can I choose which to follow?”

PREVIEW OF RAMIT’S SURPRISING ANSWER: I will not tell you to light a candle, put on a cashmere robe, and quietly chant affirmations.

Instead, I WILL tell you how the classic myth we have of “thinking our way to clarity” — and how I would tackle this. I know, because I did exactly this when I graduated.

If you have a bunch of ideas and you’re not sure how to narrow them down, you’ll want to watch this new video, released today.

If you’re curious how this exact testing process works, you can get my free mini-course on finding a job you love.

Btw, have you ever been stuck between two paths? How did you choose which was right? Leave a comment below.

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  1. Our parents’ generation doesn’t understand the chances of working at the SAME company for 30 years are very low, given the volatile economy. You’re also right about the paradox of choice leaving workers unlikely to work for the same employer for even more than 10 years. Since the market doesn’t care about your passions, I think your way of testing and verifying before making the major commitment makes sense.

  2. Wow Ramit, this video couldn’t have been released at a better time.
    At 28, I’m going through the same thing right now, or I guess it’s more accurate to say I’ve been ignoring/doing nothing about it for the past few years.
    I’ve actually sat at this “fork in the road” twice in my life now, same 2 options both times. When I was in college, I decided to take the path towards biology, in which I ended up with my degree in. However, after a few years/jobs in the field, I came to realize maybe I made the wrong choice, because no matter what job I took working in a research lab, the other would always find it’s way into my work. And the worst part of that was it would come more naturally to me than the biology did, while not getting paid for it.
    About 6 months ago I decided it was time to do something about it, while I was still single and not depended on by anyone. This time I was going to take the other path towards programming. But instead of going back to school for another degree (and more debt) or just quitting my job and finding one in that field (pretty hard w/o that degree/background)… I decided to take a half-step and enroll in a python certification program at my university specifically designed for working professionals.
    This will hopefully allow me to 1)document my knowledge/experience (another piece of paper), 2)network with others in my class (most of whom work in that field), and 3)network with the instructors/presenters (all of whom also work a day job in that field). Knowing that I’ll be spending at least a few hours a week for the next 9 months with this group also helps me because I’m better at presenting a finished working product than selling an idea/work in progress.
    My family/extended family’s response has been “you’ve got a great stable job, benefits, retirement – what else do you want?” It’s hard explaining to a generation who came to this country as refugees with absolutely nothing… all they wanted was stability in life and to grow old happy and health.
    Well, making this decision has already made me happy 🙂 The others will follow.

  3. This may seem obvious, but is Sean is going to fly to NYC/LA+++ it would be a good idea to meet with people from both film and science on those trips. Both cities have a lot of both professions, and at least on the science side I know they are (generally) very willing to meet and share insight.

  4. Being in Los Angeles and having some friends in the entertainment industry, I know that many of them started locally near their home town doing various things, and then later relocated to Los Angeles. Before they moved here, they were already doing some stuff, even though the scale is smaller. So they actually appeared to be bigger fish in the smaller pond. By the time they moved here, they already have a resume or portfolio to show for it. I suspect that the film production stuff is like this for the reader as well.

  5. I ran into this issue in my mid-20s. I loved performing and had done it all my life, but it wasn’t paying the bills. So I went the corporate route and was hired as a sales rep for a large company. All the time I was in that position, I fulfilled my love of performing through hobbies — I trained to become a competitive swing dancer, I did community theater, you name it. All that performance experience came in handy when a trainer position opened up at our corporate HQ — I got the job, plus a 30% pay increase, and was promoted again within the department a year later because of my strong performance in the classroom. It helped again when I got my current job — I now do corporate communications (I’m still with the same company), and I’m in constant demand for all the creative projects because I have skills and talent that no-one else in my area of the company has. My ability to be natural on-camera while reading a teleprompter in a company video has had even executives in the company asking me for tips. And — I’m still performing as a hobby, doing extra work in movies and TV shows filming in my city during my vacation time. I’m able to make a very good, stable living while still doing what I love.

  6. Wouldn’t someone be lucky to even HAVE two passions to choose from? Ramit has discussed having “interests” instead of “passions.” That resonates a lot more with me.

    p.s. Baingan bharta is Punjabi!

    • @Sue

      Baingan Bharta is a dish – grilled eggplant fruit (Brinjal), mashed and sautéed (or fried) with onion, tomato and mild spices; and Keema is minced meat!

  7. Ramit, I loved your answer to the diverging interests question. I would submit, though, that flying out to the coasts may not be necessary. Even Iowa has a film industry (albeit on a smaller scale), some including big budgets and known actors (“Field of Dreams,” Bridges of Madison County,” etc.). This person may be able to talk to film industry experts without incurring large travel expenses by checking out local entertainment sections of the newspaper for info on auditions, upcoming shooting locations, etc. As for science, every state has multiple colleges and industries filled with various types of scientists. The opportunity for a coffee talk should be available quite close to home. Then, if one path is clearly a “winner,” put out the money to go where most of the jobs are and expand those networks. Or am I all wrong in this attitude? Are the coasts the only way to go? (I do realize the creative corridors are recognized as the coasts, but even so, if I were looking into film, I would head to Portland, Oregon where many TV series are produced, instead of LA. The costs would be less and the series producers work with many locals, so may be more willing to do a coffee meeting.) It’s okay–just tell me I’m a dinosaur and LA is the only place that counts.

    • When you’re talking about your life’s work, I’m not concerned with saving a few hundred bucks here or there. I want to talk to the best, no matter the cost.

    • The best could be right on his doorstep, as has been the case for me in the film industry here in the UK ( I have worked on big and small productions – didn’t care for it!). Good advice from Susan to start local and see what you can find out, before spending 1000’s especially, as for example, when a top cinematographer could be within your grasp!

  8. Here’s something that popped into my head when I heard he was interested in both filmmaking and science:

    It’s a group of people who are working to make documentaries about many of the elements on the periodic table. Without knowing his specific skillset, it’s hard to know whether he could be a major help on the project, but it might be something he could consider reaching out to the people about.

  9. This is pertinent to me right now at almost 39. I’m a SAHM with a first grader, and while right now my boyfriend is very graciously making me a well-kept woman, the librarian I’ve been volunteering with for the past year’s worth of Saturdays is pushing me to get my MLIS and do this work for a living. My previous education resulted in a bachelors in civil/environmental engineering, so it would be quite a shift. One of the only 2 ALA accredited programs in my state has an online-only program, and being a state college the costs would be much more manageable than $120K. I’m scheduled to meet with a good friend of mine Monday who is currently just leaving the field to discuss the industry and options, pros, cons, etc. Since my income right now is effectively zero and the kid is finally old enough for inexpensive child care options to be available, improving my income suddenly seems dramatically doable.

  10. I’m sorry, but the freeze frame in the youtube video above is scaring me.