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Career Advice for Dabblers

By Marty Nemko

Many people fail in their careers because they like to dabble. After the fun of learning something new has worn off, they lack the discipline to follow through to the less exciting but important work that usually follows.

For example, such people enjoy brainstorming or even developing the plan for a project but aren’t willing to do the less exciting work of implementing it. Or they enjoy getting the big picture of something new, but get bored with the details. Or they might enjoy the first few months on a job, but soon after, lose their motivation.

If that sounds like you, here’s a little career advice:

1. Seek out a job in which dabbling is okay, for example: consultant, teacher, journalist, personal coach, editor, or librarian. Or choose a patchwork career, one in which you hold more than one part-time job. I know of a woman who does pottery, teaches gardening classes, travels extensively to Africa and South America to volunteer, teaches tennis, and works part-time as a dental hygienist.

2. Where possible, try to delegate details to others. Or if you’re not in a position to delegate, might it be possible to offer to do a co-worker’s big-picture work in exchange for doing some of their detail work?

3. Decide if you want to control your dabbler instincts. If so:

a) Read and keep rereading this tough-love paragraph. Put it on your bathroom mirror or other place you’ll always see it:

Remember that your dabbling often has a devastating effect on others who are counting on you to follow through. Perhaps it’s your spouse who is forced to shoulder the entire family’s economic burden while you spend or go to school rather than earn? Or coworkers who need you to do your part. Do you really want to be known as a flake, someone who can’t be counted on? Or your children, who view you as a role model, yet see you accomplishing little. And forgetting about anyone else, do you really want to see yourself as someone who, in the end, will have been a jack of all trades and master or none, or worse, have dabbled in lots of things and produced nothing?

b) Be vigilant for the moment of truth: when you know you should be staying on with a task beyond the novelty phase but are tempted to move on to something new.

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