The first time I really came to understand that my mind was operating on multiple levels was in early days of elementary school. I brought a friend over to my house to enjoy some snacks and video games. Typical fun time. Though we entered quickly and I headed up the stairs after giving my mom a quick 5-second summary of my day, my friend stood frozen at the entrance.
No doubt, it was the first time this southern-raised whippersnapper heard French being spoken, as we always did in my household. While he let out nothing but a whimper and stared into the distance, it clicked in my mind.
My friend wasn’t prepared to accept this version of me speaking in tongues as the same normal kid who was a hoot during recess at school. “How could my friend all of the sudden turn into a “Frenchie” as soon as he got home and still be a good ‘ol boy like the rest of our classmates,” he must have thought.
From then on, I came to realize that I was fortunate in my upbringing.
Born in majority French-speaking Québec, I had a linguistic advantage with an English-speaking father who would be able to train our young French ears. Years later, after our move to the American south, the advantage swung in the other direction, owing to my mother’s insistence on speaking our native French tongue without shame. It was because of this perseverance my mother held throughout the years that I was able to develop a brain which could accordion out one minute and then retreat and reform the next.
Granted, my French wasn’t near perfect. The words and letters were still a mystery to me until well into my 16th year, and the sound of Parisian French was enough to cause me a severe migraine. That being said, I was carried this passion through to learning my native language in its entirety, as well as Spanish, which seemed easy enough. Hence I trained my brain to work on multiple levels and I began the process of developing the multiple lives which I currently seamlessly slip between on my travels and on my laptop.
Of course, being multilingual adds to this, but it’s certainly not the only way.
The prospect of having multiple interests or lives has certainly plagued every young and ambitious individual at some point in their existence. At least in a positive way. Even more when they divide their time between cultures, languages, groups of individuals, or countries.
However, I can imagine how this may have more negative connotations for those who grew up with divorced parents and schlepped their things between houses according to some Byzantine schedule only a lawyer could think up. That’s certainly a negative effect of the kind of phenomenon I’m talking about. And damn is it sad, whichever holy book you clutch or store in your bathroom. But that’s another topic.
At least in this context, the idea that one can create multiple identities and fields of interest is fascinating, especially when related to social and economic life. Because it not only becomes interesting as a field of study, but actually profitable.
Certainly with the Internet, young people can take the advantage of work across a variety of areas. They can write blog posts on developments in the financial markets in their free time all the while working as low-level sales employees in struggling firms. They can consult on small graphics projects in foreign countries in between shifts at the cafe. To those with broader skills, this can even extend to larger and more prosperous projects, whether with start-ups or side-gigs to test our their entrepreneurial bones.
Those who have the capacity to multi-task and switch between languages hold a key advantage. I certainly see that today in Europe, which has benefited so greatly from the open market in labor across its borders.
Indeed, young professionals are balancing their lives better than ever and finding the time to do what they want to do and what they love – in the places where they want to be. And that may be threatening to past generations.
Especially because younger professionals are no longer happy staying in one job for life. We’ve been branded “job hoppers”, barely keeping our chairs warm at our jobs for less than three years on average in order to seek adventure or climb a ladder elsewhere.
But this level of multiple passions and jobs may not voluntary for all. For ambitious young professionals who are just starting out, this may actually be out of necessity.
Some may be juggling their multiple lives as restaurant waiters, online copy editors, grad students, retail store clerks, or personal assistants TO the regional manager in order to pay off their massive student loans. Which is inevitable with today’s soaring college bubble.
It’s a trend highlighted a few years ago by the New York Times, focused on the debt-laden young people foolishly aiming to “just get by” in America’s largest cities (seriously all the work is in the suburbs – and you’re better off getting your education in Europe or Australia, where it’s much cheaper).
Regardless, the options and tools available to young people give them a great opportunity to succeed – and major props to those who understand how to rig the clock and work their passions and jobs together in a balance.
I aim to do so by my journalism and project management, but it proves to be a fine line. I left the great job I had at Watchdog.org as a journalist in order to focus on my work here in Europe. What is the proper amount of dedication one ought to give one profession in lieu of another? How can one sharpen their skills and narrow their expertise and experience? It’s a question I’m still grappling with, despite my rosy outlook.
Of course, I’m still writing and the race to research never ceases, but the prospect of living and multiple lives has worn me out. It’s forced me back into my study and reading. Back into re-evaluation of the values and ideas I hold dear, the history that precedes me, and what fields deserve the utmost focus of my multiple minds.
I’m still learning. So it goes.