Welcome to the Slash Career

Originally published Monday, May 11, 2015 in The Times, Ottawa, IL.


They used to be called "Renaissance men." "Polymath" is the technical term: a person of great learning in several fields of study. But neither completely encompass what has evolved into a modern phenomenon: slash careers.

Many members of Generation Y have started to reject the way people always have thought about work. While anybody these days will tell you the nature of work is changing, there may be more to it than you'd expect.

Americans have come to realize the average person will not stay employed at the same place as long as their parents before them. This has changed the way we think about job security, but there's another shift in occupational conventions you might not have heard of.

A "slash career" is pretty self-explanatory: having more than one job. Take the renaissance men for example. Da Vinci was an artist/scientist. Sir Isaac Newton was a mathematician/astronomer. These men were excellent examples, but they were anomalies, even in their own time.

The majority of people, in 16th-century Europe or 21st-century America, seek out one job at a time. If you'd told your parents, at 18, "I want to be a lawyer and a pastry chef," they'd probably have told you to go to law school and to keep baking as a hobby. But, what if you could turn both into successful careers?

Many millennials are now challenging the norm. They are intentionally seeking out simultaneous careers. And that doesn't include moonlighting or multiple jobs to make ends meet. They have developed two or more very separate professional identities simply for the love of both. The advancements that technology has brought to research, education, and communication have made slash careers more possible than ever.

Many have questioned the value of slash careers, though. A boss might pass on hiring a person for only 50 to 60 percent of their time. Some view a slash career as an excuse not to make up one's mind. Companies worry that switching from one career to another will create stress or lack of focus.

Dr. Arin Reeves calls life "a composite of activities." Many people divide those activities into "work" and "play." That's a pretty normal viewpoint, no matter where you're from. Work makes the money, life is everything else. Dr. Reeves breaks those activities down in a different way, instead into three categories: activities that generate income, activities that use income, and some that are neutral.

I much prefer using those three categories. Some activities require work, but don't make any money, like running errands, chores or school. If you have a job you love, you wouldn't call that activity work at all, yet you're still making money.

By that logic, why can't I have two activities I want to devote my life to, that both happen to make me money? To me, choosing a slash career might mean I couldn't make up my mind. But it's not a drawback. It's an opportunity. For now, it's 3D artist/face painter. In the future ...

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