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Kaleidoscope Careers: Uncovering Your Inner Cezanne

Soon after I started this blog, I got an email from a former colleague who was quite taken with the RealDelia concept. “Think about it,”...

Soon after I started this blog, I got an email from a former colleague who was quite taken with the RealDelia concept. “Think about it,” he said. “You have so much material. I mean how many shows are there featuring ex-pat American PhD freelance essayist ex-radio producer moms?”

He was teasing me, of course (he also said that I should have called the blog “Lloyds of London,” but then advised me to save that for the reality TV show). But he does touch on a serious point. Like many people out there in today’s work force, I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional life which, combined, give me a diverse set of experiences to write about and talk about.

Lisa Belkin had a terrific article about this phenomenon in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, in which she discussed Caroline Kennedy’s failed bid for the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. However you felt about Kennedy as a candidate, Belkin’s basic point was that Kennedy may have lacked experience for the job in a linear-I’ve-been-preparing-for-this-job-all-my-life sort of way (unlike, say, Kristen Gillebrand, who eventually got the nod). But the sort of “kaleidoscope” resume that Kennedy brought to the table (e.g., lawyer, writer, fundraiser, parent) is increasingly the norm in today’s economy, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children.

Belkin’s article also reminded me of some of the arguments raised in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers. In a New Yorker article last Fall entitled “Late Bloomers: Why do we Equate Genius with Precocity?,” Gladwell – drawing on extensive research by David Galenson at the University of Chicago – points out that many of the world’s most celebrated “geniuses” – people like Paul Cezanne, to name but one – didn’t start out as geniuses right off the bat, but rather took years to culivate their talents. So it wasn’t that Cezanne was discovered late (as is sometimes erroneously thought to be the case); it’s that he simply wasn’t very good at what he did until quite late in his career. In the meantime, he was experimenting.

Taken together, I found the messages in these articles to be quite reassuring. Belkin’s article suggests that the economy may be changing in ways that rewards diversity over continuity where careers are concerned. And Gladwell’s article suggests that if you haven’t been labeled a genius by the time you’re twenty five, you’ve still got plenty of time ahead of you. In either case, the message seems to be:  experiment away…

*****

While we’re on the topic of experimentation, I took my kids to see Dan Zane and Friends today in London. Some of you may remember Zanes from his earlier career in the pop band The Del Fuegos. But he has since reinvented himself as a creator of  “homemade family music.” Haven’t seen him perform live? It’s a must…

Image: Kaleidoscope FR 5340 1907 by Lucy Nieto via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Anne April 14, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    It’s the ultimate “life as improvisation” -you just keep exploring and heightening what you find in front of yourself and you eventually find yourself somewhere that makes perfect sense although the path is anything but linear.

    If you don’t know it already, Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson is all about this. My mother gave me a copy when I was in my 20’s. I come back to it every few years or so – it gave (and continues to give) me clarity on the way I want to be an adult.

    • delialloyd April 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

      Thanks, Anne. I’ve actually heard of this book but never read it.

  2. Shelley June 13, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Boy, it sounds like really hard work being a late bloomer. Still, it would be nice to think I could still make a flower in my life…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Growing Up: Safety in Movement « RealDelia - June 1, 2009

    […] absolutely right. It explains why I jumped at the possibility of moving overseas. It explains why I like to change careers. And it also explains why I used t0 have a lot of trouble committing to long-term […]

  2. Tips For Adulthood: Five Telltale Dreams of Adulthood « RealDelia - January 13, 2010

    […] fundamentally a dream about goal-directedness, which strikes me as an apt thing for someone with a kaleidoscope career to worry […]

  3. Continuing Education: The Importance of Experimentation « RealDelia - June 10, 2010

    […] And who knows? Maybe I’ll be the next Cezanne… […]

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