Tag Archives: kaleidoscope careers

Tips For Adulthood: Five Concrete Steps Towards Career Change

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

“I don’t want to end my life,” a friend told me recently. “I just want to exit it. Sneak out the back door when no one’s looking.”

She was talking about her job – which she hates – and her career more generally, which she’s (clearly) ready to leave.

But undertaking a major career shift can be daunting…and terrifying. And many of us – faced with the sheer enormity of it all – opt to remain where we are, rather than to embark on a project of this magnitude.

If you’d like to shift gears professionally – but can’t quite summon the energy to begin that process – here are five concrete steps to launch that process:

1. Normalize it. LifeTwo, a leading career counseling organization, reports that their prior estimate of three careers in a lifetime is now in the process of increasing to as many as seven careers. Moreover, here are some additional statistics that should make you feel at home: According to a Gallup poll, over 60% of workers are not truly engaged in what they do, and the same percentage would change careers if they could. Finally, changing jobs frequently may even be an advantage. According to career blogger Penelope Trunk, it also keeps you fresh and passionate about your career.

2. Reconceptualize it. I got a holiday card from an old friend telling me about his new career as a psycho-therapist. Prior to that, he’d been in the arts as well as the construction industries. As he put it: “I am becoming increasingly comfortable with seeing my professional life as a series of explorations rather than Wall Street Journal-worthy profiles.” I’ve written before about the concept of kaleidoscope careers, 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. Under the kaleidoscope model, having a rich, diverse professional background may be a positive in today’s economy.

3. Read a Self-Help book. If you have the resources with which to consult a professional career counsellor, by all means, do it. But if you can’t afford that, I’m a big (converted!) believer in self-help books for career change. When I moved out of academia into journalism (and beyond), I read two books that were not just useful, but essential, for my professional reinvention. And the nice thing about those transitions was that they cost me less than 20 bucks-not bad, eh?

4. Apply For A Job. This may sound counter-intuitive as most people (myself included) would counsel you to first figure out what you like and what you’re good at before thinking concretely about career categories broadly defined, let alone jobs. But once you’ve given it some thought and have narrowed down your potential career trajectories to a handful of possibilities, take a whirl at applying for a job that sounds like it might be right for you. The chances are almost zero that you’ll get it. But in putting yourself down on paper – and providing a narrative of yourself for this particular job – you’ll gain some insight into who you are professionally. Re-imagining yourself in this way will also give you more self-confidence going forward.

5. Look at job boards. One way to spark your imagination about the kinds of things you might do with your particular skill set and area of substantive interest is to skim job boards in your chosen field. You should of course do this once you’re actually doing a proper “job hunt” (as opposed to a “career hunt.”) But it’s also useful to do this on occasion early on in the process. You’ll be amazed at the kinds of real-life jobs that pop up that you’ve never even thought about but which might suit you perfectly. Two sites I’m particularly fond of are Idealist (for the non-profit sector) and Journalism Jobs. But it’s a big, wide world out there and job boards abound in all sorts of professions.

Go get em’!

Image: Job seekers destination by Newton Free Library via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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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,” 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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