Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose Atlantic story “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” set off a national debate, proposes a new career path in her new book, Unfinished Business:
Athletes have long understood that the best way to get into peak condition is to engage in interval training. You go all-out for a period of minutes, then slow down for the same number of minutes before going at it again. Going 100 percent all the time never gives your body a chance to recover; you have to be strategic about when and how you ramp up and ramp down.
Life, and careers, can be approached the same way.
Rather than picking a single professional ladder to climb as your parents and grandparents did, over the course of a forty- or even fifty-year career you’ll encounter many hierarchies in various different jobs. Depending on your career goals, you’ll want to put in the intense effort to climb at least some of those ladders, to do everything you can to make it to a certain level or even to the top. But between these periods of push, you’ll also be able to plan intervals of less intensive and more flexible work, work that is much more compatible with starting a family or caring for aging parents.
Even better, if you take charge of your own professional development and think about your career in terms of a series of different jobs and life experiences, you can choose your intervals accordingly. While specific intervals cannot always be planned for, the idea of intervals certainly can.
U.S. demographics are already pushing in this direction. Millennials beginning their careers are treating their first decade out of school differently than their elders did. London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott predict the rise of a new “explorer phase,” in which “people in their twenties keep their options open and experiment with different roles and skills to better understand what they are good at and what people enjoy.” They’ll take risks that they cannot afford to take later, either physical or entrepreneurial, and invest in building networks and new experiences.
In this new kind of career planning, we have to begin by rethinking what a career is. A “portfolio career” can be described as holding multiple part-time jobs at once or looking for a series of full-time jobs—each challenging you in a different way. Pick a dream job that you would like to hold someday and analyze all the different kinds of abilities and experience it requires: fundraising, say, or strategy, management experience, profit and loss responsibility, writing ability, or public speaking experience. Instead of gaining those skills by moving up through a preordained series of rungs on a corporate ladder, think about the many ways you could acquire them by doing different jobs at different times.
It’s also important to look at the different phases of your life, or at least what you hope your life will be. Even if you don’t want kids, and have a longer period of time to devote yourself single-mindedly to your career, you may want to immerse yourself in your community in some way, write a novel, learn a foreign language and live abroad, build a social enterprise, or devote yourself full-time to a hobby you are passionate about. These broader life ambitions are just as important as your career ambitions; it’s up to you to figure out how to combine them.
From the Book UNFINISHED BUSINESS by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Copyright © 2015 by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
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