Should You Explore Fields and Career Interests Outside Your Specialty?

As a marketing professional, I’ve had many opportunities to work with startups. Due to the nature of startups, the work environment and culture allowed me to take on responsibilities that were not confined to a traditional marketing role, such as design, user experience, and even coding. What I found was that the accumulation of these skills and knowledge enabled me to have a much more comprehensive approach and understanding to my career.

Like me, you might feel tempted to explore other career fields but are unsure if you should instead focus on deepening your expertise. The good news is looking into other fields doesn’t always mean you want a career change, and you can maintain your primary profession while exploring other career interests in a way that is beneficial for your career growth. In this article, we’re going to delve into research and some of my own experiences that support this notion.

Why You Should Explore Fields Outside Your Specialty

In his best-seller “Originality“, Adam Grant talked about the need to have a combination of both broad and deep experience to drive creativity. He argues that you need to have deep expertise coupled with a broad diversity of experience to be able to identify a creative idea. This echoes the t-shaped talent that Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO, goes after.

If you’ve worked in your field for a number of years, you may find yourself well-adjusted to a certain type of thinking and thought process for your work. To counter that, having knowledge in other fields and career interests can help you see your work from a different angle. For example, after studying user experience and being able to apply the knowledge to my marketing work, I realized the value in keeping up with new skills not just limited to my field. Exploring other interests had helped me be more adaptable and creative.

This is very advantageous because when you’re working with teams from other departments, you can have a much better understanding of where they are coming from. In addition, an applicable understanding of other disciplines can also strengthen your current skillset and make you stand out more as a professional.

Before you consider other career interests, make sure you already have a solid professional skillset. Your main expertise is the backbone and foundation for other skills and knowledge to accumulate and strengthen upon. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are dabbing here and there in various areas without having a secure skillset to backup your career.

When Should You Consider Exploring Other Fields?

Through my own work and professional projects, I’ve identified three scenarios that might be good opportunities for you to start considering career interests outside of your main specialty:

Scenario 1: As you continue building your skillsets for your current job, you realize there are some overlapping areas with another field.

Intent

To build a strong foundation for your current career; seek additional mental and intellectual stimulation as well as relevant skills to apply to your current work.

Research

Cognitive science research shows that people develop a “knowledge base” as they learn. The knowledge base, in this case your current career, provides a structure that makes it easier for you to absorb new but relevant information. This means exploring another professional field can contribute to your career growth and professional development. The relevancy in other fields also helps you think beyond a given situation and engage more in making inferences and decisions.

How it worked for me

At one of my previous jobs, I was working with landing pages and web content regularly. Most of it was content creation and editing, but I eventually developed an interest in user experience (UX) and web usability. When it came to a new product launch, I took my knowledge on design principles and user psychology to the section of the website I was managing, delivering content that not only read well, but also made for a better user navigation and experience. Combined with my marketing knowledge, I was able to effectively apply what I learned about user experience and still achieve my marketing team’s objectives.

Try this

As you explore other fields, be sure to think about how you can retain what you’re learning as you work at your current job. If possible, ask for opportunities where you can better put your newly-acquired skills into practice. If your job doesn’t allow for those tasks, you can always create your own projects, which also enables you to experiment with ideas and concepts from that field.

Scenario 2: You find yourself stuck during brainstorming new ideas and creative solutions for your work.

Intent

To have a different approach to your work that applies perspectives and angles from another field.

Research

According to the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, the diversity in subjects and knowledge one learns and is exposed to allows for flexible adaptation to new problems and situations. Applying a fresh mindset and seeing your work from a different angle can provide more productive and effective solutions. In fact, this is how Elon Musk approaches innovation.

How it worked for me

With the hype and trend in programming, I decided to pick up on some coding skills and took courses in Python for a few months. Although I didn’t end up pursuing a career in software engineering, I discovered that after learning programming and doing it on a habitual basis, my brain thought more systematically. I naturally applied this style of thinking to business strategies and development. A bonus was that I found myself able to chat about programming topics, however limited to my beginner level, with my fellow programmer colleagues.

Try this

Find an area you are interested in. Does it require a more creative or critical approach? Can this help with your current job? Commit to the learning and studying. Immerse yourself in the material so you learn to have a different thinking style from what you are used to. For this process to be effective, it’s important that you study the material on a regular basis so that you are able to gradually absorb the content and thought processes behind it.

Scenario 3: You don’t feel completely satisfied with your current job and would like to consider a career change some time.

Intent

To maintain your current job situation while testing the waters with another field.

Research

It is common for people to switch careers at least once in their lifetime. Over 42% of millennials change jobs every one to three years. Additionally, study shows 52.3% of Americans are unhappy with their work. Since your brain works better when you’re feeling positive, you should find a career that you resonate with the most. But what if you don’t know what other jobs would make you happier? This is when you should take time to do some exploring.

How it worked for me

Though I’m currently content with my career in marketing, there have been times when I’ve thought about a career change. The opportunities I’ve had in working with clients in web design, user experience, and branding had given me a chance to reflect on what I enjoyed doing professionally. The experiences, collectively, allowed me to explore my various interests in other realms, while concurrently strengthening my skillset and knowledge for further professional growth.

Try this

First, determine if your current job is the best fit for you. If it’s a profession you’ve been with for awhile, you may feel hesitant to do a career change or move. It’s okay to engage in other fields and interests. You don’t need to be tied down to one profession just because you’ve worked in it for years or it is relevant to your degree or study. Keep in mind you may have limited time and resources, so invest your energy wisely when trying things out.

Remember, you can still explore a different career without quitting your day job. You can do this by talking to those working that field and exposing yourself to some of the material. Ask, is it a practical “career change” at this point? Does it require technical skills that take time to establish? If it is a field you are interested in, but the complete career change isn’t practical at the current moment (due limitations such as degrees, licenses, or years of experiences), see if it is possible to tie the two career interests together for a gradual transition. For instance, if you are a designer and would like to consider marketing, you can try out branding from the visual side.

Of course, this isn’t going to apply to every case. Decide for yourself what is best. If you believe the career shift is worth the investment and is in your best interest, then work towards it.

Conclusion

Though research findings support the benefits of exploring other subject areas, I advise you to pursue these endeavors only if you have a genuine interest in it, not simply for the sake of career development. If you don’t have a strong enough interest in the particular realm, you may find yourself not dedicating enough time and resources to carry on with it in the long-run. Regardless, I still emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind and discovering the plethora of knowledge and information accessible to you for your learning and career pursuits.

Elaina Lin
Elaina Lin has worked in digital marketing, branding, and product development. Her experience in business accelerators and startups has given her exposure to working with a variety of products in a dynamic environment. She is also certified in Communication and Leadership from Dale Carnegie Training.