When it comes to choosing a life partner, most of us expect to make a few mistakes before finally selecting The One. 

Let’s face it, it’s not easy to match personality types, values, and of course find that inexplicable “spark.”

But when it comes to careers, many of us make an equally complicated choice based on … the classes we enjoyed in school?  How much we think we can earn?  The choices our parents approved of?

Whoa.  Careful there, or you’ll wind up in a career relationship for all the wrong reasons.

Here’s the good news: there’s no requirement to marry your career.  You can fool around or even take a break.

In fact, if you’re really lucky, you might be in the envious position of having two loves.  Here’s how to choose between them, or keep them both, whichever you decide–without the guilt.

The shocking truth about following your passions

It turns out that career design bears some similarity to how moths choose a mate.  

Basically, female moths release scents called pheromones, which the male moths chase.  In this analogy, the pheromones are the equivalent of your passions and you, my friend, are the male moth.

Now some moths are better at getting to the source of the pheromones than others (see the comparison of moths A and B below), but all of them have to zig-zag back and forth before eventually closing in on their target. 

This is an important point, because people trying to decide between two or more career options often have a hard time making up their mind. 

Believe me, as the moths have demonstrated, it’s hard enough finding your way when there’s only one source.  Blazing a career path when you have two or more passions can be confusing.

Worse, friends and family get frustrated by what they see as a lack of commitment or courage, which furthers the cycle of indecision.

But if the moth could give you just one piece of career advice, it would be this: it’s as valuable to know when you’re off the scent as it is to be on top of it.

Career love triangles (you complete me)

As I stated in my original post on career design, my first instinct was to work part time at three separate activities.  It worked in theory, but it also was a source of conflict.  

In fact, God help me for saying this, but I recently started to wonder if I wasn’t, indeed, a lost soul.

You see, I’ve been doing my moth thing over these last 12 months and I realized I was having a hard time honing in, mostly due to fear. 

I was afraid to pursue a traditionally published book before I’d really explored the full potential of the blog.  But I was afraid to launch a product or service on my blog for fear no one would buy it and this little career experiment of mine would reveal itself as an utter failure. 

Lastly, I was afraid to stop consulting because I couldn’t bear to fill out a credit application admitting I didn’t, currently, have a source of income–but surely I would once I produced my first e-book!

I looked an awful lot like Moth B above, going in circles, and getting farther away from my target.  And the more I went back and forth, the more I felt like a failure. 

But in fact, what I was doing was critical to the whole process.

I went back to my original career design exercises and looked at the data again.  Interestingly, I had subscribed to Entrepreneur Magazine as one way of narrowing down my choices.  But instead of letting the subscription lapse after making my career choice as a writer, I’d renewed it. 

Clearly, this was a scent worth following.  Maybe the answer lay not in choosing between being a writer or entrepreneur, but finding a way to complete my career love triangle.

How to find what you’re missing

I love this quote from Barbara Sher’s book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was

What will determine the course of your life more than any other one thing is whether or not you’re willing to tolerate necessary discomfort.

If you’re wrestling with the idea of what to do because you have more than one passion, let me assure you that feelings of discomfort are totally normal.  

It’s not unlike choosing between two love interests.  You hate to play favorites, but keeping them both in your life can feel a bit odd too.

Some passions are destined to be hobbies.  For a long time I worked in science by day and wrote poems by night.  I never wanted to become a full-time poet.  Even better, this arrangement allowed each passion to stoke the fire for the other.  I wrote poems with a science theme, and brought creativity to my science work.

But entrepreneurship was different.  While it doesn’t have to be a full-time pursuit, you’re either committed to doing it or you aren’t.  I kept telling myself I’d already picked writing as the career love of my life, but it felt like something was missing.

I let my fear of failure prevent me from dealing with my career discomfort.

So get creative.  If you have a passion for medicine and boats, daydream about how you could bring those two together.  Maybe you become the doctor for a cruise ship.  Maybe you join Doctors Without Borders and use a boat as your primarily mode of transportation.

Just like any relationship, it may not work out.

But don’t let fear prevent you from trying.  Whenever it wells up inside you, turn to the passionate people in your life for guidance. 

Instead of talking you down off the ledge of your emotions, they’re going to tell you to leap.

They’re right.  The worst thing you can do is stand there, heart in your throat, while the comfort of your old life calls through the open window.

Because when you leap, you might just discover you have wings.  And just like the moths, it’s when you’re flying that you’re likely to find your way to the light.