The Yin and Yang of Careers

When it comes to careers, I maintain a belief that there are two general orientations towards your experiences.  These can be thought of as yin and yang, or opposites of the same underlying characteristic.  They are breadth and depth.  For example, a career in depth is focused on developing a high level of expertise within a specific field.  This might include a specialized doctor, a professor, scientist, engineer, military officer, etc…  As time progresses, people who choose this path will continue to grow and elevate themselves within that particular discipline.  Fulfillment and personal achievement occurs by taking on more complex challenges that demonstrate complete mastery of a specific skillset.

In contrast, a career focused on breadth embraces variety and completely new experiences.  While you may certainly develop some depth in a particular area, personal fulfillment comes from pursuing challenges associated with completely new experiences.  As time progresses, the breath of experience provides insights that help prepare you for dealing with new situations.  Examples of careers that pursue breadth might include consultants, entrepreneurs, brand managers, project managers, etc… For these individuals, every day presents new challenge that they may, or may not, be equipped to handle.  However, it’s often the sense of uncertainty that makes things exciting.       

These paths are not mutually exclusive.  Some people will gravitate towards the extremes, while others may take a more balanced, or “middle path” approach.  Your orientation toward depth and breadth may also change throughout your career.  However, being honest with yourself about which path you prefer is a helpful framework to help guide decisions about your development and growth.