“A single fixed identity is a liability today. It only makes people more vulnerable to sudden changes in economic conditions. The most successful and healthy among us now develop multiple identities, managed simultaneously, to be called upon as conditions change.” – Gail Sheehy, New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time
After reading One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Work Model for Work/Life Success, the once overwhelming and seemingly unfeasible concept of multiple professions turned into an attainable, practical, and unifying option in life. Author Marci Alboher is proof of living out a “Slash Career.” Upon leaving a career in law, she is a regular contributor to the New York Times, as well as a renowned speaker and writing coach. The book is chock-full of real life examples of the journey to slash careers and guidelines to follow when considering a slash for yourself. To start off, here’s a list of some featured slash-ers and their chosen professions.
Dan Milstein, computer programmer/theater director
Karl Hampe, management consultant/aspiring cartoonist
Grace Lisle-Hopkins, Assistant Dean of Admissions/photographer
Robert Sudaley, teacher/real estate developer
Sally Hogshead, branding expert/author/consultant
GROWING A SLASH
The people in Alboher’s book did not find the way to their slash(es) all in the same way. It’s different for everybody. Sometimes people have a solid foundation or experience in one thing, such as having a degree in a certain major and getting a job in that field. Having that background, they are able to sustain themselves financially while garnering more skills for a second career. Think of this as already having a tree to live in, but then planting a new seed right next to it, watering it as it grows. You’re preparing and consistently attending to this second interest. “Watering the seed” can look like taking photography or writing classes on the side, training for yoga instructor certification, or spending weekends traveling and blogging on a personal site.
These side projects are essential to growth because you can choose the amount of hours you spend cultivating your slashes and can tweak your journey if you realize certain aspects aren’t working. Alboher sums this up well when she explains that “the place that something occupies in your life – the paycheck, the gratifier, the giveback, the passion – is all up to you. In a slash career, you can control what goes where.” Forming multiple identities through slashes is in your hands. The choice to add or subtract slashes can allow you to feel more in control of your biggest interests. You’re testing out a menu of careers before you order.
USING A SLASH TO CHANGE
Sometimes slashes help people transition from one job to the other, even if they are completely different. Two things every transitioning slash-er needs: 1) Self-awareness and 2) Preparedness. This is especially true for individuals who have started careers that are time-sensitive. For example, athletes and dancers cannot and should not rely on their physical abilities to sustain them forever. Pursuing slashes during their starting careers will safeguard the switch. And before you think otherwise, it can be done. Tim Green, former NFL player for the Atlanta Falcons, worked on earning a law degree during his off-seasons. It took him eight years, but he did it and secured post-football work. He has also written best-selling suspense novels so if you need a slashing muse, he’s a good fit.
LITTLE SLASH NOW, BIG SLASH LATER
“The fact that an opportunity presents itself isn’t enough of a reason to take it on. It has to fit in with the rest of what you want to be doing. At that moment.” Alboher talks about the importance of being aware of a slash’s place in the now. Let’s say someone is an accountant or lawyer, but they volunteer as a firefighter or police officer on evenings and weekends. Volunteering may be the only channel at this time to successfully balance the slashes. However, upon retirement, placing more precedence on community safety will be the best time for that commitment. The different stages in life are wonderful places to revisit slashes. It’s an on-going path so there is no need to feel confined in how or when you add or change careers.
Alboher urges her readers to think about their lives and distinguish their anchors and orbiters. An anchor is what she defines as a job that you’re getting your health insurance from, or a steady income, or a place that requires you to show up in person or travel on behalf of a company. Orbiters are the slashes that you find are able to orbit the anchor activities. She shares that typical orbiters could be writing, building websites, or anything that can be done at any time of day.
Now it’s your turn. Create a simple chart with a Column A (anchors) and Column B (orbiters). Writing out this list is the first step into the world of slashing.
The slash is a reminder that there are no excuses to limit yourself. It is also a call to action, to reflect on what you want the big picture of your life to look like and to work through the details now. If you’re seeking wholeness or dynamism in your work/life, living out a slash may be just what you need.