How to choose a career if your interests are wide

I’ve spent the last five years learning about farming. At first I couldn’t even tell the difference between a hay field and an oat field. Now I can tell when a planting is late. I have learned enough about cattle to sort them for breeding. I don’t do as good a job as the Farmer of course, but I won’t miss any that are really bad. I have learned how to milk a goat, even though I’m terrible at it.

Now it’s spring, and the farm is incredible. There are baby animals everywhere.

The farmer is letting the piglets slip out of their pen. The piglets run all over the farm like they’re free-range chickens, and because the mom is stuck in the pen, the piglets always come back.

My son just used money he earned selling his pigs to buy two Alpacas. We are fascinated by the alpacas, the alpacas are fascinated by the piglets.

The boys spend tons of time outside, doing things that, had we lived in a city, I would have felt are way too dangerous, like cutting wood with an ax and walking through a whole herd of cattle to explore the creek. The boys spend a lot of time in the yard pulling stuff out of the garbage and turning it into forts.

Just when I was about to tell the boys to stop making a mess of the yard and stop taking stuff out of the garbage, a cat had her kittens in the fort. And the boys were so proud that they added a playroom to their fort so the kittens could learn to walk. Now they spend their days waiting for the mom to go get food so they hold the kittens.

It’s also a great time on the farm because we can let the goats out of their pens without worrying that they’ll eat all the crops. The goats are like dogs right now, following my son all around, and waiting for him like a good friend waits, while he goes in and out of buildings doing his chores.

I tell you all this to tell you how nice it is to be on the farm. I love the peacefulness of it and I love how high my learning curve is. I love how I can make a big difference with whatever I do. And when the Farmer needs help with a job, I feel important and useful doing it.

Life on the farm has all the components of a great job. Control over my hours, control over my workload, goals that are challenging but I can meet them, and a high learning curve. But the farm is not my job. I have tried, believe me. I’ve come up with 50 different business models to make the farm my job. But I can see that it’s not going to work.

The farm is not my job. It’s something I love right now. It’s something I’m really excited to learn about. But I can do that without getting paid. I do it for pleasure and because it’s fun to be passionate about something.

I have other work that I get paid for. My homeschooling blog, for example, is growing very fast, and already making me a good bit of money, and it’s an example of a way to keep my learning curve high doing something that earns me money.

Which is to say that there’s a wide range of things we are passionate about, and there’s a wide range of things we can make money doing. The trick is not to find the thing that allows us to earn the most money or the thing that we are most passionate about. The trick is to find the thing that combines passion and money and stick with it so you get great.

Just because I love the farm doesn’t mean my work has to involve the farm. And this is true for you, too, when you are picking your line of work. Often we feel there are are so many things we are passionate about that no career makes sense. Just pick one thing to do. And if that doesn’t work, then pick another. Making a choice and trying it is an important career skill. And choosing something practical, that people get paid well for, is an important life skill.

You are not a failure if you don’t do what you love for a living. You are a practical person who knows that no one can do the stuff they are passionate about if they are worrying about food and rent. Support yourself somehow first, and then explore your passions from there.

64 replies
  1. Jon Putnam
    Jon Putnam says:

    Great article, I love these topics and your insight on them. However, I always struggle with the notion of try something, if it doesn’t work, try something else. Seems the job market isn’t conducive to this right now and I always wonder, while you point out that we all need to make money and support ourselves and our families, how do you do that and keep trying things so often?

  2. Cecelia
    Cecelia says:

    Penelope, sometimes you write things that are good. Sometimes I think you are absolutely insane. And then you’ll write a post that I find brilliant and I end up forwarding it to everyone I care about. This is one of the latter. Keep it up (and thanks!).

  3. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    So what do you think are the best ways to find the jobs that pay the most? and tools like that?

    I’ve used those in the past for various jobs and it’s a great tool, but the other part of your advice — finding a job where you can make a big difference — seems as elusive as a double rainbow all around.

    Do you find it ironic that you’ve struggled to make a business out of all your farm experience and expertise but that you can actually make more money starting a second blog? Most people can’t make money from one blog, let alone two!

    Also, have you changed your mind about people having just one blog? Because it sounds like your second one is really lifting off for you in ways above and beyond income.

  4. Jennie
    Jennie says:

    Great article, as always. love your blog and love your photos of your farm…can I move in? ok kidding – I won’t move in…I love all those animals…how cute are those kittens and piglets?! piglets are SO cute!

  5. Emily
    Emily says:

    Oh man, alpacas! I love alpacas! Are these alpacas that will have fur suitable for spinning into yarn? Alpaca wool is some of the BEST stuff to knit with.

    • Lesley
      Lesley says:

      Yes! Alpaca wool is awesome. There’s a business. I paid premium price for a skein of alpaca wool at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in September.

      • Emily
        Emily says:

        I was thinking the same thing too – “there’s a business” – because I routinely pay pretty good money for alpaca yarn!I have no idea how much yarn you can get from two alpacas, though.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Yeah, I’m thinking of selling the wool on my blog. We’ll see how it goes. I always have these ideas for selling farm stuff on my blog and then it doesn’t go as planned. So I didn’t write about my idea for a yarn business in the post — and anyway the margins are so low that it’s only barely a business. But stay tuned for that one…


          • Kathleen Donohue
            Kathleen Donohue says:

            Alpaca farming is a bad business to be in at the moment. There are so may hobby farmers the price of alpaca hair (it’s not wool) has been steadily declining for years.

  6. Lindsay Lennox
    Lindsay Lennox says:

    “Often we feel there are are so many things we are passionate about that no career makes sense.”

    In my 20’s I had a hard time focusing on finding a career path I could live with – I tried out a few fields, I identified a few things I was very good at, and I never stayed interested in anything longer than six months. Turns out that was because there was only ever one thing I cared about doing (writing) and every other job would necessarily be a day job, no matter how interesting or rewarding it was for a short while. However, I also realized that what I was looking for was, in fact, a “day career”. Because it’s okay to go ahead and work on advancement, raises, expanding responsibilities – high achievers really can’t help but do that. But it was liberating to stop expecting to fall in love with my paying work.

    • Jon Putnam
      Jon Putnam says:

      So, is what you’re saying that you do have a career that isn’t what you’re interested in, but it’s just that – a day job that pays the bills and so on. However, you do what you are interested in as a hobby? One thing I have a hard time with is that I am a high achiever when I have to do something (like go to work and perform), but I find it difficult to find the motivation to do something and try hard to do it well when I don’t have to do it at all (like pursue my interests as full-fledged hobbies).

  7. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I don’t have a substantial comment, just that I really enjoyed this post. This is a great one.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s substantial that you took the time to tell me. It’s nice. Thanks.


  8. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I may not really want to know the answer to this question, but will those adorable kittens get killed? I realize it may be a farm-life necessity, but I hope your boys do not take it too hard, given their personal attachment to these kittens and your older son’s difficulty in selling his pet goat.

    • meistergedanken
      meistergedanken says:

      “I may not really want to know the answer to this question, but will those adorable kittens get killed?”

      Of course they will. As any upper-midwesterner of Scandanavian lineage can tell you, kittens are a staple of potluck dinners and picnics. Yum.

      “I realize it may be a farm-life necessity, but I hope your boys do not take it too hard, given their personal attachment to these kittens and your older son’s difficulty in selling his pet goat.”

      You are the greatest concern troll EVER.

      • Sandy
        Sandy says:

        Maybe so, but what is it to you?

        Apparently, you are the greatest troll Troll EVER.

        P.S. – If the kittens are killed for food, then that changes everything.

  9. Lydia
    Lydia says:

    As usual, I truly enjoyed this and passed it on, as I have my hands in far too many things, trying to figure out how to make money doing what I love. But what’s up with the kittens? When are you going to start spaying your cats? I know I’ve read where you’ve talked about the heartbreak of their deaths and many injures before. It looks like there are plenty of other small creatures around for your kids to play with and cuddle, without the resulting frequent death of the cats themselves or the hundreds of birds and small creatures they pointlessly destroy.

    • meistergedanken
      meistergedanken says:

      Liberals are always obsessed with reproduction – and limiting reproduction.

      You can’t have the Cycle of Life without death.

      Perhaps the federal government will create a program to fund feline abortions. Or maybe we can bus in Sandra Fluke to hold a rally to demand free contraception for farm animals.

      Hey, maybe all those kittens will catch thousands of mice that would otherwise eat hundreds of bushels of grain that could otherwise feed the hungry of Africa! Have you no decency? No conscience?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We have a system in place where once a year we spay all the cats we can catch. It’s an interesting system, actually. The vet cuts off the edge of the cats ear to signify that it’s spayed. If you don’t know your cats well enough you can’t keep track of which is spayed.

      We miss some cats each time, but we have found that we end up with just one or two litters and that’s about the right amount to make up for the number of cats that get eaten by other animals over the course of a year.

      So, we have a pretty stable cat population.


      • Jen M.
        Jen M. says:

        I’m really glad you said that you try to catch and spay as many as you can. Perhaps one day you will indeed get them all. (I assume you are also catching and neutering the toms?)

        TNR is a very good way to keep the cat population down and reduce suffering among cats.

  10. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    This is so timely for me. I am trying to figure out which of my passions might make money. That’s what I can’t quite figure out. But I’m still trying…!!

    Amy Parmenter

    ps. love that you are happy on the farm. and LOVE the pics!

  11. Angela
    Angela says:

    Penelope, please stop contradicting yourself! You will ruin lives if I listened to you! Do you knowhow stressful it is not have a career? I remember reading your blog about specialisation to earn more money. Now you ate advising people to quit and restart so often! I give up on your blog. It is entertainment. Are you really happy in the farm? I find it hard to believe now. Also, if homeschooling was pratical and affordable, we will all do it! Please stop justifying it to us. I can not even afford to have kids! I did find your blog advising to change my lifestyle in order to have kids useful tho!

  12. Bonny
    Bonny says:

    Thank you so much for this.

    I am just finishing my business admin degree, and am on the job hunt. Defining “what I want to be when I grow up” is still so hard to put into words! I’m the girl who lands pretty close to center on all the aptitude and personality profile tests. I pursued the business admin degree as opposed to marketing, management, finance or HR because there are aspects of each that I am very interested in.

    So thank you. You give me a little hope today, when I feel to be very lacking in it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the link. The article is a great example of how it was such an easy step for me to go from career advice to homeschooling. Forbes is explaining why our education system does not prepare people to function as adults. And it doesn’t prepare kids to be independent thinkers, so really, it only serves to derail kids and that’s why it’s so hard to figure out a path after graduation – because no one is helping during school.

      So this post, about sorting through all the things you love to do – is really just about learning. Learning about yourself and where you fit in the world It’s what school should be.

      Forbes is so conservative. If Forbes is saying this we’re at a tipping point.


    • CJ
      CJ says:

      I love that it discusses the passivity of learning to be good little consumers. Our schools, among many other negative things, are in place to keep us spending on useless and even damaging things. All the sales, fundraisers, prison grade “food” and junk food laden parties, etc. keeps sending kids in with money…I remember the soda machine wars in California. The schools were holding out with a death grip. They didn’t want to lose the revenue stream from the sales. This was before I had children but I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t obvious to the schools that they shouldn’t be behaving like a corporate business, placing their bottom line over the health of the students. Yet they were, and they are and they always will be.

  13. Andi
    Andi says:

    Even as far back as high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I’ve ever been halfway decent at is writing. Finally, in my late 30’s, my husband is like, “Duh, why not write then?” Finding a career you care about, & that you can be proud to work for — it’s tough. When I was job hunting, I only applied to companies that were non-profit, or community driven, or child-oriented. Fortunately for me, I was already married to someone who could support me during this search. Guess I’d have ended up at McD’s w/o a partner to pay the bills while I took my time looking for something that contributed to the world in a positive manner. Was lucky enough to work for a youth organization for five years, which I loved… but it wasn’t *me*. So now I’m home, writing. Is it a career? I don’t know. But at least I can say, at the end of every night, “I’ve tried it all.”


  14. John@PGISelfDirected
    John@PGISelfDirected says:

    Thanks for the nice post, Penelope. My take on this is that you should stick with the things you love doing instead of going for what’s everybody’s doing. (By the way, the picture of the alpaca checking out the piglets is a winner.)

  15. Sabrina
    Sabrina says:

    Great words!!! Loved this: The trick is to find the thing that combines passion and money and stick with it so you get great.

  16. Justaguy
    Justaguy says:

    Wonderful post. There are many of us wandering sheep that are looking for the path to enlightenment. Thank you for being the good Shepard, to guide us towards the path of self fulfillment. If we could only stop grazing at the side of the road, and get to the destination……..

  17. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    I love this post. I think this is something that people in my age group (late 20s) struggle with very often, especially women. Someone out there told us that we should follow our hearts, find our passion and the money will follow, etc. A lot of people have had to learn the hard way that it doesn’t always work out like that, so I’m glad that you’re here to give us a reality check!

    • Clare
      Clare says:

      I think the advice to “follow our hearts, find our passion and the money will follow” is well-meaning, but flawed. No job is going to give you 100% excitement / satisfaction or whatever 100% of the time. Better to find something that ticks most of the boxes, most of the time, and keep your “passion” for your free time. (And part of me thinks cynically that half the reason we see so much “must be passionate about” in job descriptions is to warn candidates that the job is so terrible, you’d have to be pretty dedicated to the field to put up with it.

      I like the rest of this post too: you never know how your life will pan out, and sometimes learning unexpected skills pays off in other ways. I don’t know that what I’ve learnt over the past few years about growing food and lunar gardening is going to be immediately useful. But it’s made me a more patient and more grounded person, for sure.

  18. fred doe
    fred doe says:

    Ms. Trunk some say, you are “bat shit crazy”! But not today! I’m retired and I do OK but everyone needs something to put their hand to if for no other reason then they can. That job you eyed up 30,40 years ago but couldn’t cause it wouldn’t pay the bills, now is not a factor. I know what I’m going to do and if it don’t work out if the boss says, “your a nice guy pop pop but don’t let the door hit you in the ass” I’ll be no worse off. Thanks for the tip kiddo:)

  19. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    “waiting for him like a good friend waits”. My favorite line – so cute, so sweet and so fun! I love it!

  20. Ellie
    Ellie says:

    I haves tons of interests (from American Jewish history, Bikram Yoga,fermented tea, the stockmarket, fashion). During my job search/career exploring I have learned that being a career counselor or recruiter would allow to meet new, interesting people with varied interests every single day. I can chat with people about their interests which interests me. Cool, huh?

  21. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Unfortunately, I have several things I can do which I’m good at, a few of which I like, a few of which make money, but rarely all three at the same time.

    What do you do when your talents lay in an area people need but don’t want, and you suck at (and hate) marketing?

    • Ellie
      Ellie says:

      @ Tzipporah-
      Not to state the obvious- but have you tried Myers Briggs tests? I am still doing my job/career search, and the MB test really opened my eyes to other possibilities (including things I didn’t know I liked!). Another great book is What Color is Your Parachute?

      I am a cynic (a former academic cynic at that!, and some career and self-help books have really helped me in my search for vocational fulfillment. Happy hunting!

  22. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    And as an aside, one of our cats was born a farm cat in the alpaca barn, so your post has given me a big smile of nostalgia in two different pictures.

  23. Tammie
    Tammie says:

    I am glad I stumbled onto your website. I have been frustrated lately with my circumstance. I have been a work at home mom for 18 years handling my husbands business finances. Well I am back in the work force now without a college education. My husband had to shut down his business and he is currently farming. He had always farmed but neither farming or business was doing well on it’s own. I am mainly working for the benefits that our family needs and some income. I have changed jobs twice in the last 1 1/2. My main problem is I get bored with the work. My current position does not keep me busy but they led me to believe it was a stressful job. Not! they obviously don’t know what stress is. How do I find a job that I can enjoy and be content with. As in one of your other articles, I don’t want to be labeled a job hopper, something that is already being spoken about me from friends and family.

    • Diane
      Diane says:

      Don’t worry about leaving jobs that are worthless, no matter what anybody says. At the same time, formulate a plan to feel energized about your life.
      No. 1: You are never too old to get an education. I was in your shoes after staying home with kids for a long time. Even though I had a degree, it was ancient, and did not get me a job. I knew that I always liked to write, so I enrolled in a community college course for 8 months in corporate communications. It wasn’t easy being 45 in a class of 21-year-olds, but I swallowed my pride and did it. The outcome? Graduated first in the class and had two great jobs offers before I finished the course. I still have one of those jobs with a large cultural institution where I pretty much write all day. Don’t settle for crappy jobs, but at the same time don’t be lazy about what you need to do to fashion a life that meets your expectations.

  24. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I have discovered that the thing I truly love to do, I only love when I don’t have to worry about making money at it. I have a job that I basically enjoy, pays my bills, and doesn’t make too many personal demands on me so I can make art in my personal time. Sometimes my art hits the commercial sweet spot, sometimes it doesn’t, but I have the freedom to pursue my artistic vision because I have a modicum of security no matter where the art market goes.

  25. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    You’re like the mom stuck in the pen; we’re like the piglets. We run around, but keep coming back for more. Actually, the analogy I like more is the giant spider web; we’re out there, flying around-all carefree like, and then, smack–stuck in Charlott’s web; personally involved in the drama, the Farmer, and everything. No, that doesn’t really capture it either. Once, I saw a movie about the black widow spider. The poor male, he keeps coming back to mate, even though its risky. This one guy; he had only three legs left from his last encounter. And there he was; plucking on her web, inviting this giant female spider for a date. The nerve of some male spiders. I feel that way about my waste-to-energy business start-up in Mexico. I will probably get eaten alive this time. But I can’t help it. I do so love the fight; the thrill of victory, and agony,,, etc. I can’t be a zoo animal.

  26. Robyn
    Robyn says:

    This article was nice, but not very helpful. Penelope, how do I, as a twenty something, pick a direction and venture off?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You should try something you think you might like. If you don’t like it, try something else. Keep trying things. And don’t worry about not doing what you love the most. The only think you can do wrong is to stop trying new things. Once you find something that is okay, keep at it, and do stuff you love on the side.


      • megan
        megan says:

        I totally agree with this approach – except what do you do when you dont know what you love? I was an athlete my whole life, did really well in school and made all sorts of practical decisions. I was so busy doing what I thought I was supposed to do that I didnt stop to figure out what I enjoy. Now I have a “good” job that I dont particularly like and no outside passions.

        • Ray
          Ray says:

          I thought the same thing when first read the article. I’m going through the same thing.

          Penelope states “You should try something you think you might like. If you don’t like it, try something else. Keep trying things.”

          The takeaway for me is to just try something, anything. Loving it 100% is not a pre-requisite. Just move foreword with something you think you might like. If you don’t like it, rinse and repeat.

  27. muhamad ali
    muhamad ali says:

    yup you choose a farm business carefully i also fumble around what to do either job or my business, finally reached on decision to develop my own blog of telecom news and gained success, the name of my telecom news portal is,its success full because i was focused around my business to fumble here and there so focus what ever you want to do in your life business or job.

  28. muhamad ali
    muhamad ali says:

    yup you choose a farm business carefully i also fumble around what to do either job or my business, finally reached on decision to develop my own blog of telecom news and gained success, the name of my telecom news portal is
    its success full because i was focused around my business to fumble here and there so focus what ever you want to do in your life business or job.

  29. Kaylie
    Kaylie says:

    I think your example of farming is perfect–you sometimes think you’re interested in doing one thing, but then you try something new and you realize you like the new thing as well. Sometimes you know what you want to do, and sometimes you stumble into it.

  30. Career Choice
    Career Choice says:

    I agree with you when you said that the trick is to find the thing that combines passion and money and stick with it. Combining those two elements is one great way to have a career.

    Great thoughts and I am fascinated with that little piglets and animals in your farm.

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