(By Jessica Stillman)
“I’ve found that each career informs the other, and that when frequency of gigs temporarily lightens up in one field, it increases in another. On any given day, being able to choose which thing I want to pour my energy into keeps me from getting bored and restless. There’s always something to work on, and inevitably some new challenge arises”.
In business, single-mindedness is sexy. We revere the expert for her in-depth knowledge and celebrate those with monomaniacal focus for their passion. In contrast, dabbling in a little bit of this and that can seem, well, a touch flaky. Can’t you make up your mind? Or maybe it’s just you’re not good enough at any one thing to make a decent living at it?
But perhaps it’s time for those with multiple career interests to fight back. That was the message of a pro-slash manifesto by Kate Hamill published on the Freelancers Union blog a year ago. What’s a slash? No, we’re not talking about the legendary Guns N’ Roses guitarist (sadly). A slash, also known as a hybrid, is a person with a mixed professional identity—a lawyer/ journalist, coder/career coach, or freelance copywriter/banjo player.
According to author Marshall Goldsmith, this sort of career is on the rise. “Slashes are people who pursue multiple careers or vocations simultaneously. They’ve taken the notion of moonlighting and turned it on its head. Whereas moonlighting was something you did shamefully, slashing has cachet. From lawyer/chefs to mom/screenwriters and celebrity icons like Bono, rock star/humanitarian, slashes are appearing at all strata of society,” he declared in BusinessWeek a few years ago.
But despite Goldsmith’s cheerleading, acceptance of the slash way of working still isn’t complete, Hamill says. She’s an actor/playwright/freelance writer, “but something about saying that out loud at parties made me blush,” she confesses. “The hybrid of three careers made me feel like I appeared uninvested, wishy-washy. It made me, uh, twitchy.”
Adaptable and Engaged, Not Flaky or Indecisive
But it’s time for slash shame to end, Hamill believes. “I’ve come to embrace my hybrid nature, and the response has been really fascinating. Because I no longer act ashamed of my ‘/’, people are genuinely interested—and often even impressed,” she reports.
Why should you follow in her footsteps and hold your head high if you’re a slash? The approach isn’t without its difficulties (maintaining focus and avoiding exhaustion being a couple of obvious ones), but it’s also increasingly common, especially among the young. Also, contrary to the worry that slashes are mere dilettantes in their various endeavors, taking a hybrid approach to your career can actually make you better at the various things you do.
“I’ve found that each career informs the other, and that when frequency of gigs temporarily lightens up in one field, it increases in another. On any given day, being able to choose which thing I want to pour my energy into keeps me from getting bored and restless. There’s always something to work on, and inevitably some new challenge arises,” Hamill reports.
She concludes with a rousing cheer for her fellow slashes: “As we continue to roll steadily into the 21st century, multi-faceted people will become more and more valuable—and more able to maneuver in an increasingly fluid economy. Embrace being a hybrid; you’re not alone, and you have every reason to be proud!”
Do you agree that the future of work includes a lot more slash-style careers?