Is Your Fear Sapping Your Passion?
Positive Professional Development Tool: Career Stepping Stones

Managing Your Career When You Have More than One

Multiple identities

One of the hardest questions for me to answer is "what do you do for a living?" Unlike most people I know, I don't have one, simple bite-sized nugget to describe what I do.  Depending on who you are, I might tell you that I do one or more of the following: 

  • Help people work through career transitions and develop their career/professional development plans. 
  • Work with government agencies and nonprofit organizations to help them develop programs and services that support unemployed and disadvantaged workers, such as people with disabilities. 
  • Provide training and technical assistance on how to use social media for job search and to support workforce development programs. 
  • Develop and facilitate leadership academies and training sessions.
  • Facilitate communities of practice.
  • Educate on reflective practices. 

You can see the connections between some of these "jobs", but some you can't see. As a self-employed professional, the work I do is largely based on the skills I've developed and places in the market where I've seen a need. At any given time, I'm doing work in several of these areas. 

Marci Alboher wrote a few years ago about One Person/Multiple Careers, referring to a phenomenon she called the "slash career"--people pursuing multiple careers simultaneously. Marci was a woman ahead of her time, as I believe increasingly many of us will be pursuing this kind of career path. While some of us may become hyper-specialists, others (like me) are building a multi-pronged career where we pursue multiple opportunities at the same time. 

For the most part, I think this is a positive. I diversify my funding streams this way and a "slash career"  keeps me fresh and exposes me to different people and different ways of viewing the world. This career path also keeps me from getting bored. 

But there are downsides too, like what to put on business cards and my LinkedIn profile?  How to build an "online brand" that doesn't confuse people? How to divide up my time and ongoing professional development so that I'm building skills that will help me in all these different areas? 

What is most challenging is helping other people to understand what I do when so many of us still have fixed in our heads the idea of a single career path or "job." People want to hear one single thing, like "I'm a nurse" or "I'm a career coach" or "I build bridges." It's hard for them to accept that you can be doing several different things at once. 

Many of us are going to have to figure this out though, because in a world of diminishing full-time "jobs," more of us are going to be pursuing the "slash career." It's going to be the key to our career growth and survival.  And honestly, it's a return to how things used to be--think Benjamin Franklin as your career role model. 

One book that helped me think through this a few years ago was The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. Another was Refuse to Choose: Use All of Your Interests, Passions and Hobbies to to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams. (A side note--why do all non-fiction book titles seem to require a colon? It's a trend that disturbs me.) 

At any rate, I'd love to hear from those of you who may be pursuing the Renaissance Man/Woman approach. How do you manage your different paths? How do you continue to grow and learn professionally, especially if your skill sets aren't particularly related? What do you love about your path? What do you struggle with? What do you think of the slash career as a professional strategy? 


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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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