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Great post Michele, and one that really hits home for me. I've always struggled to define what I do in any one of my careers; and that's even more prevalent at this point in my life. Just what is it that I should note as my "profession" on my tax return?

What I find interesting is that many of us "generalists" have an easier time during career transitions than our highly specialized counterparts. While they may have been well paid for their special unique niche, once they are no longer in demand, they have more difficulty adapting to new realities.


I can totally relate! I’ve taken to calling it a “portfolio career.” I am consultant/proprietor (there’s a slash) of Learning 4 Learning Professionals and an adjunct faculty member in several graduate programs.

The way I manage the intellectual schizophrenia is by narrowing the focus in each role in my portfolio – the whole career is about supporting the professional development of people who work in learning and development roles (designers, facilitators, faculty, learning leaders, consultants). I don’t design call center new hire training (although I could) and I don’t teach management courses (although I could).

My several professional lives mesh quite nicely these days and even though the work is very varied the “stuff” I need to know well is very focused.

I totally agree with you that this is the way many more careers than ours are going to be described.

Hi Catherine--yes, porfolio career is another name for it. What I liked about Marci's "slash" career idea was that a lot of these new "paths" are not as well connected as yours are. So we have some people who are essentially doing related kinds of work, but in different venues and other people trying to manage careers that are seriously un-related or only peripherally related.

From a career development perspective, I'm interested in the fact that I'm not sure a lot of people are seeing that you can pursue these multiple opportunities at once. I actually think that the rise of social media and inexpensive online tools makes it even easier for people to market themselves and pursue these different opportunities, but first we have to be open to the possibilities. I think we tend to feel we have to focus on just one thing.

Scott--I think you're right that we generalists tend to do better in a recession, especially if we've been able to deepen our knowledge and expertise. Personality-wise, I don't think I could ever focus on just one thing, so for me, it's an easier sell. But I think a lot of people get sucked into the "specialist" mode to the point where they're specialists in their own companies and haven't connected to the larger skills and abilities related to their profession. That's why I feel that being in communities of practice that cut across companies industries is so important. It's one of the ways we can stay fresh and be aware of how skills are being used in a variety of work venues.

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