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Blog // Thoughts
September 11, 2008

Generation Slash

There’s currently a rush of books on multiple, portfolio or modular careers. A recent newcomer to this herd is Marci Alboher’s One Person/Multiple Careers. This book is focussed on what it means to be a “slash person,” namely, someone who has a slash between the different facets of their “career;” marketer/author, policeman/personal trainer, rabbi/comedian – […]

There’s currently a rush of books on multiple, portfolio or modular careers. A recent newcomer to this herd is Marci Alboher’s One Person/Multiple Careers. This book is focussed on what it means to be a “slash person,” namely, someone who has a slash between the different facets of their “career;” marketer/author, policeman/personal trainer, rabbi/comedian – that sort of thing. Marci is one of the writers behind the NYT’s Shifting Careers blog.

The premise of One Person/Multiple Careers is that whilst people once held multiple jobs as a way to make ends meet (or moonlighting as it used to be called) they are now increasingly “choosing” to have several working identities as a way to make their lives more complete and rewarding. This flows from a realisation that a single career is not always satisfying and that it is possible to sustain multiple working identities through adulthood.

In fact, one of the most compelling undercurrents of the book is that the conventional, singular career path often makes us simpler and by extension less interesting people. By choosing to be a slash, holding down two or more vocational identities, we are in fact choosing complexity, which in turn makes us more interesting, possibly more complete and maybe, more thoroughly adult.

I found One Person/Multiple Careers to be stimulating, but at times problematic. First, the book is written in that “here’s someone, here’s someone else and here’s someone else again” style. There’s plenty of biography – possibly too much. It’s good to see how people have arrived at their slash-ness. But, it might have helped to read a little more critical analysis, in particular how the slashes felt they could have handled their relationships and disappointments better and more detailed discussion about moving from initial ideas about slash-ness to a working lifestyle.

There’s a breeziness to the way each biography is introduced that downplays the trauma behind some people’s “decision” to adopt slash working identities. I put decision in inverted commas because, frankly, it isn’t always a choice, even in these enlightened times. One Person/Multiple Careers does a great job of reinforcing the point that slash-ness is a viable and sometimes desirable career strategy. But, a lot of people are not onboard with that idea. Perhaps dealing with resistance to slash-ness in working, social and intimate settings is a big enough topic to merit a whole book of it’s own, but I would have liked a little more discussion of it here, maybe in place of a few of the biographies.

More specifically, there is very space devoted to men adopting slash identities as a way to handle being a primary care-giver (parent). I admit this is a personal issue and the thing that drew me to the book. We get a few slightly drawn biographies here and there (mostly at the end), but very little meat. This is a huge topic: whatever resources and networks exist to support women who build slash identities (as a way to be more available parents), there’s only a thin sliver, by comparison, for men. Moreover, we will never, ever, address the “glass ceiling” and the imbalances in pay and senior positions for women until we put more resources in place, in terms of work, education and community for men to take on primary care roles, which will, by extension, mean more male slashes.

Those criticisms aside, there is a lot of value in the book for a wide range of audiences; those dissatisfied by their work, those facing transitions such as marriage, starting a family or changing geographic location, those who cannot financially support what they understand as their primary calling (e.g., ministers, artists, musicians), employers, educators, leaders of volunteer organisations and friends and family of slashes.

My generation is, in so many ways, the slash generation. An awful lot of people I know are slashes, or see slash-ness as their vocational destiny. It’s an issue that raises the question of transparency, honesty and authenticity and is best summed up towards the end of the book in a quote from a woman who is a lawyer /minister,

“If you are in touch with who you are, willing to allow people to see you for who you really are, and willing to be really vulnerable, that’s what makes you authentic and that’s what allows you to bridge the gap between the personal and the community, the secular and the spiritual. I have been graced with the opportunity to move in a number of different settings, from prisons to boardrooms and every segment of my life is intertwined. When you weave the threads of your life together, the whole of you comes out.”

For generation slash, the perennial question of “what do you want to be when you grow up” has been replaced by “who do you want to be when you grow up.” There is both risk and reward in that formulation. The risk that searching for “the who” might be just a game, a facade, a costume or an endless chasing after an “identity.” The reward is a fullness of life that is not constrained to a singular career identity and the ability to adapt to new contexts, new cultures and new social and economic realities.

Responses
Liam 12 years ago

I think the who instead of what is a helpful distinction in how we understand our identities, a distinction which describes the Christian understanding of vocation and personhood more appropriately.

With regards to slash jobs, although conceptually a very attractive option, I have only ever seen it done in two ways, neither which were particularly helpful. 1) 2 Job, 2 Full time, Overworked, quick to burnout, 2) One job that pays the bills, but feels very much like work, the other a preferential vocation which brings in marginal income compared to the former.

I would love to see it work though,

Liam

Mike Mahoney 12 years ago

Interesting concept. I think many of us live that life without having a name for it. Now we do – slashes…

I think many of us in ministry would consider ourselves to be slashes in light of this, especially those of us who work in small congregations that cannot support us financially. So I look at myself as a manager/pastor. Increasingly, my attention is being drawn to the latter, so maybe I should consider myself a pastor/manager.

I’ve carried two careers for much of my adult life, as you point out out of necessity much of it. Now it is a vocational choice – I don’t get paid in my pastoral position (not in money, anyway) so the just-about-full-time hours I spend at that are truly a labor of love at this point. And isnt’ that what vocation is supposed to be?

Good to see you posting regularly, Fern…

kris 12 years ago

actor / model.

or web dood / musician. at times its a great source of frustration that i spend a great majority of my time building websites. but it sure beats working in a coal mine. and i do have a lot of flexibility to do my music basically whenever i like. and i can afford to keep my family housed and clothed and eating well (unlike anyone of my musician friends who either really depend on their spouses income or work at the kwik-i-mart). and i own my music and don’t have to make compromises with it. so being a slash while in some ways is not my ideal it actually affords me a great deal of control over my lifestyle and doing the things i really love on my own terms. i haven’t had to sell out to live the dream. i’m just living it in a different way. wow – thats a mini revelation. i should be really happy.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Of course, “making it work” is the big challenge. Alboher makes the point that writing, teaching, speaking and consulting are the “four slashes that go with anything.” They are a great place to start from in extending a career out in new directions.

Part of the problem we face is that in Western cultures (as Csikszentmihalyi points out in Flow) we’ve just about destroyed the idea of the amateur or dilettante, I mean, those words are pretty much insults these days. Unless we revive the idea of doing things “for the love of it” we’ll always fracture ourselves in terms of the stuff that puts food on the table and the stuff that feeds our soul.

As for ministry, I’ve thought for a long time that we shouldn’t just accept slashness as “solution” to a problem, like funding or lack of talent, but actually pursue it as a strategy. These days, I’m not sure I can make sense of the “missional” idea outside of a sense of slashness.

Oh and Kris – you are living the dream mate!

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