One of the most significant generational differences between millennials and older members of the workforce is the contrasting mindset around career path.
Not so long ago, the average employee joined a company straight out of college, worked his or her way up from entry level to middle ground, and eventually joined the upper echelons of management, hardly stopping to give other employers a second glance. There was a much more linear development of career growth, which also included now-mythical concepts such as pensions and six weeks of accrued paid time off.
Career paths today are much less straightforward. What’s the longest you’ve stayed in the same role? If it’s no more than 2-4 years, you’re not alone. What about your bio on Twitter? You’ve probably listed multiple professional identifiers, as many millennials do. Do you have more than one business card? Maybe one for your full-time gig and one for your side hustle?
Whether it’s “actor/playwright/freelance writer,” “lawyer/journalist,” “copywriter/coder/career coach,” or some other hybrid combo, many millennials have embraced what’s been called the “Slash Career.“ Increasingly, people are choosing to take more creative, self-directed routes to success, breaking old norms and rules in the process.
Why exactly has the Slash Career become such a trend? For one thing, so much work can now be done portably and remotely. You can log nine hours a day at an office, then come home and plug away at your side job from your laptop. Plus, the idea that career can bring you fulfillment and meaning in your life — in contrast to a formerly utilitarian approach to work — is much more widespread.
But as prevalent as the Slash Career is, it can feel uncomfortable at times. Juggling multiple professional identities can lead you to feel like you still don’t have things figured out, making the classic networking ice-breaker question “So, what do you do?” incredibly nerve-wracking. If you’re a teacher but also a freelance copywriter who dabbles in social media consulting on nights and weekends, what do you do really? How do you wrap up your complex personal brand into a 30-second elevator pitch?
First of all, this conundrum — the hybrid career fueling multiple passions, and providing multiple streams of income, but also leaving you feeling rootless and uncategorized – is super common, not a new concept. Anyone who works while actively raising children, which has been commonplace for a long time, is technically living a Slash lifestyle. If generations before you have survived and flourished with Slash Careers, so can you.
But like I said, it can be awkward. If you’re feeling occasionally iffy about your hybrid work-life, focus on these positives.
Your skill set is well-rounded
Whatever skills you’re honing in one area of your career are undoubtedly serving you well in your other pursuits. Developing strong editing skills as a writer makes you a more articulate speaker. Being well-versed in finance helps you manage your side income, and so on. Each job enhances the other, arming you with a robust skill set.
You’re never bored
When you’re feeling unenthused by one line of work, you can turn to its complement to find new inspiration. Having multiple vocations energizes different parts of your brain and keeps your creative juices flowing.
You’re more interesting
You know those people at a dinner party or cocktail hour that have the most fascinating stories or seem to know a lot about a huge range of topics? Staying engaged in different types of employment means you’re being steadily informed in a variety of areas and collecting life experiences at a faster rate than if you were singly devoted to one job.
You’re a networking machine
Your numerous vocations expose you to that many more potential contacts. Even if traditional networking doesn’t come naturally to you, working in a cross-section of functions and fields automatically merges your path with others who you wouldn’t necessarily meet if you were confined to practicing your craft in one area.
You’re financially secure
No matter your areas of expertise, the fact that you have multiple sources of income leaves you in a relatively solid position should one revenue stream fall through. Those with one full-time job face a single point of failure: if they’re laid off, fired, or decided to leave, they’re left with few financial options. Meanwhile, your hybrid career provides you extra cushion and flexibility to adapt in the face of financial challenges and multiplies the opportunities you have to earn more.
Okay, so you realize that having a Slash Career can be pretty great. But how to deal with the downsides? Namely, the inner confusion over how to define yourself, the fear that you’re not giving enough to any one of your pursuits, and the stress over resumes and interviews when your background is so multidimensional.
Here are a few points to remember:
What you resist, persists
The fact is, the Slash Career is much more widely adopted than you think. Next time you have the chance, ask your coworkers, college friends, or other acquaintances what they’re up to in their spare time. You’ll be surprised how many share that they’ve got a freelance gig on the docket. Chances are that as you realize how common hybrid work actually is today, the stigma you feel will fade.
Make it work for you
Instead of thinking of your Slash Career as a disadvantage, think of it as a leg up. Having a mixture of subject matter on your resume gives you much more to talk about with a hiring manager and sets you apart from unilateral applicants. In an increasingly competitive job market, bringing manifold skills to the table is only a good thing.
Find the common thread
One of the secrets to becoming more comfortable with your Slash Career is doing some examination of the deeper themes that tie together the different elements of your interests. Think with the end goal in mind: that, in total, you want to create a body of work greater than the sum of its parts.
Probably the best thing about having a hybrid professional identity is that nothing is cookie-cutter. Careers are no longer one-size-fits all, rather, you now have the chance to perfectly tailor your professional path to your dreams and aspirations.
Despite the flashes of self-doubt and insecurity, you have to admit it’s pretty great to have a life packed with a variety of interesting, fulfilling projects that not only foster a range of skills, but also nourishes your passions.
Roads diverged and you took the path less traveled — and that has made all the difference.