Sounds odd? Think I live on another planet? Just check the profiles on LinkedIn and you’ll see what I mean. Increasingly people’s LinkedIn profiles read something like: “I am a X & Y and also do a bit of A and B and occasionally C”.
A ‘designer’ is now someone who works in “design, social media and event management and launching a crowd-funding platform startup” and a ‘therapist’ is now an “expert in alternative medicine, manager of an online distribution business, health blogger and also a musician for corporate events”. Even employees and executives in large companies may have a side gig where they take on another part-time business such as real estate, semi-professional poker players or offer some kind of professional service (un)related to what they do in their day jobs.
But this is not all, there are also others who will answer the same question differently based on who asks. So the same person may be a therapist, an online distributor, social media manager and an entrepreneur at different times of the day depending on what the person who asked does and needs.
Without going into a full sociological analysis, I think this trend is very telling of the economic and social context in which we live nowadays. Internet makes everything easier to access and faster to achieve. We can all reinvent ourselves and find a stimulating and rewarding profession if we set our mind to it. Increasingly it seems that the days of a training/job for life are becoming, well, a thing of the past . Not only this ‘for life’ label is starting to feel somewhat boring for some people but even for those who appreciate the stability of a fixed job these are getting harder to come by and not as secure as they used to be. Even getting hired in a large and stable corporation doesn’t guarantee a fixed job until it’s time to retire.
On the other hand technology enables us to work anywhere and anytime. So people are making the most of technology and information and are reinventing themselves professionally all the time. And whilst you are it why limit yourself to just one activity when you can learn and do many things? The truth is that we all want to make some extra cash (ideally tax free). Also, acquiring basic ‘technical skills’ is getting easier (you can find an online course often quite fast and even for free). So provided the state is not in the business of regulating the access and practice of your chose new profession (such as medical doctor, lawyer, etc.) anything is within you reach.
We are constantly being stimulated to get used to multi-tasking. At work they tell us that we need to take on side projects and learn to juggle between roles and responsibilities or else. At home, where time seems to be shrinking all the time it is not uncommon to do many things at once simultaneously: eat, surf the net, watch TV, chat and answer an instant message.
Does all this multi-tasking stress you out? Is this parallel professional configuration starting to eat into our sense of professional certainty and identity?
If so consider this.
The exact configuration of what we do is less important than the overall ability to be creative, feel free, enjoy a sense of growth and contribution and whatever else the sum of the different things you are doing may be bringing you.
If you think this is only relevant to professionals who run their own business think again. Even in the corporate world people need to be able to display an image of competence and flexibility, willingness and ability to take on new roles (often in parallel to their official job spec) as demand comes in. If not, guess who will be on that list when the next merger, acquisition or downsizing hits (and it will sooner or later)?
So where does this leaves this growing group of multi-identity professionals? It depends. For some, those who have successfully made the transition by adapting and getting comfortable with this new multi-tasking professionalism, things are looking good. At times it may get a bit hectic but all in all it’s ok.
For many others though it is really hard to keep smiling all the time. They clearly enjoy the feeling of freedom and creativity that this multi-tasking brings. In many ways once you get started taking on new roles adding yet another professional identity isn’t very hard and can even be fun. You kind of get used to it. After all the real skills required are already there: learning and selling something else.
So where is the problem?
Unfortunately for some this multiple professional identity can turn into a split-personality syndrome where they start feeling pulled in many directions without really knowing who they are any more. If you are one of these multi-tasking pros you know what I am talking about. It’s stressing having to check 3 or 4 different email accounts, feed content to a number of social media networks and be quick in finding the right business card amongst the 3 or 4 in your wallet.
Eventually some may start to desire a return to the good old “I am a X (and nothing else thank you very much)” scenario. Just one thing at a time: nice and easy.
First, take a step back and find out exactly what is frustrating you. As people tend to enjoy what delivers their desired outcomes chances are that the issue is not the split-personality but rather the lack of proportional results given the amount of time and effort put in. This is the most likely scenario since one of the main reasons we do take up other activities because just the one may not be fulfilling at all levels and especially financially.
In other words, before you jump to the conclusion that you are simply uncomfortable with doing too many things at once, you may first want to imagine what it would feel like if you could be doing these two, three or more activities and getting satisfying results from them all. Does this change your state of mind? If so you may want to review the issue and reframe it as a management problem. In other words what could you do more or differently to get the results you want? Are you getting your priorities right? Is your time management efficient? Are you leveraging the right resources? Can you get some help? Can you automate tasks?
On the odd chance that you are getting the results you want but still feel frustrated then your issue is even simpler to resolve. Simply prioritize and delegate or drop one or more activities and only focus really feels right for you. Typically your best seller may be the right candidate to focus on as you people tend to enjoy more what they are good at.
Once you have taken the steps above, and only then, you may want to consider a deeper assessment of how each activity and professional identity is aligned to your core values and basic human needs.
Some activities may be generating some frustration because although they align well with some of your values they may not deliver others aspects that are also important to you. Example you may feel that activity X allows you to satisfy your need for helping others but doesn’t make you feel that creative any longer. If creativity is a core value for you then it is clear that this activity may be losing appeal to you. In certain, more extreme, cases this misalignment can go all the way towards generating an internal conflict. This happens when you feel that a certain activity is bringing you something you value whilst at the same time bringing something you dislike. As an example think of a salesperson who loves what they do as they get a thrill from closing deals but knows that what they are selling isn’t really as good as it is claimed to be. This can generate an internal conflict where achievement is in conflict with another important value: integrity. Ideally this person would recognize this and come up with a way to design an integrity-based selling approach. With a bit of creativity, resilience and passion almost anything can be achieved but, as we have seen in previous posts, not always is this possible. In these cases it may be best to move on to something else where the two values may coexist and even enhance each other.
However there is another crucial question to ask before you make a significant decision such as dropping one of the things you do. You need to go back to your six fundamental human needs and be fully conscious of how much, in particular, you value stability over variety. As I have explained in a previous post we all share six fundamental human needs and although all are important for us we tend to favor one or two.
When dealing with the challenge of being many things at once we need to be honest with ourselves and understand the relative weight that the need for stability and variety have for us. If we need stability over variety it is likely that at some point this multi-tasking may start to take its toll as we go back to what is in essence a conflict: the creative part is satisfied but the stability-seeking one is not. As mentioned earlier it is often possible to reconcile dissonant parts.
In the next post I shall explain how to do that.
As usual: stay tuned and get in touch if you need any help to make sense of this in the context of your current challenges and objectives.