When I came back from studying abroad in Brazil in 2015, I prepared myself to never speak Portuguese again. I had spent a year devoting myself to the language simply for my own enjoyment, and stepped off the plane expecting to leave all that behind. Two years later, my Portuguese skills and time abroad in Brazil have been instrumental in my career. Speaking a language that is not commonly spoken in the U.S. has allowed me to set myself apart from my peers in a job market that seems to be more competitive by the second, but I didn’t realize its importance when I was actually taking the steps to learn Portuguese.
Although we often don’t notice, the skills we build either on purpose or by happenstance hold the power to open doors for us. Have you ever gone down the chain of “if I hadn’t” to find what might have caused your current situation? I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in high school, but if I hadn’t taken Spanish classes back then, I may have never gone on to study Portuguese or go abroad, and the path I am on now might not have been open to me. The skills I’ve developed in the past have brought me to my present, where the potential paths I can take are limited by what I know how to do and how well I can do it. We can never know where an experience, skill, or new acquaintance might lead us unless we take the time and energy to pursue it.
David P. Campbell describes this concept in his book, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else. Campbell, an expert in the field of career exploration, explains that choice is what allows us to live happy and fulfilling lives, and that choice is a direct result of assets (made up of talents and skills, education, friends, and family, to name a few). As a result, we should try to develop as wide an array of assets as possible in order to maximize the options open to us in the future.
This perspective can allow us to look at career development and life in general in terms of investment. On the stock market, most people invest in several different companies to minimize their risk. Perhaps in life, we should invest in several different aspects of our development so as not to become pigeonholed and be able to arrive open and prepared for whatever comes our way.
But, what about those of us who don’t have the time to build new skills with everything else on the to-do list? Skill-building doesn’t always have to be the large commitment that usually comes to mind. Learning how to knit, change the oil in your car, or garden vegetables are some examples of relatively low-investment skill sets that can not only make us into more diverse individuals, but can potentially open up an entirely new set of future choices and paths down the road.
So, consider this your excuse (or your kick in the rear) to finally sign up for that new class you’ve been thinking about or to buy those tomato seeds you’ve been eyeing at the grocery store. It might not make you a millionaire, but it just might give you a new perspective, or maybe even another path. You can never make a choice later that you don’t open up for yourself now.