Ever since finishing my undergraduate studies, I’ve never had a point in time where I was only working in one job alone. Even when I had a ‘full-time’ job, it was a 4-day workweek. And it was in a company that respects your time. So there was seldom any need for overtime. So I could tutor and teach guitar on the side too.

But as I’m surrounded by people who work in one job and in one company at any one time, it’s hard to imagine if multiple careers can be a viable, long-term plan.

Can we really have our cake and eat it too? Especially in a culture with working hours among the highest in the world?

The concept of multiple careers is not new.

In fact, many people in the Renaissance period were good, or even great, in many different disciplines. Okay, they didn’t exactly think of careers in the way we think of careers now. But they were still polymaths. Great at several things – not everything. You can hardly call them a jack-of-all-trades because they were truly masters of some.

Recent thinkers have argued for similar ideas surrounding work and career.

Charles Handy calls it the “portfolio life”, where we surround our lives with a portfolio of activities that can be a combination of engaging in paid work, volunteering and pursuing our hobbies.

Marci Alboher calls it “slash careers”, where people fully express their diverse passions and talents by pursuing work in more than one role. For example, you can be both a lawyer and a chef (hence the ‘slash’).

You are no longer defined by a single job title. Well, you shouldn’t be defined by the work you do. But, that’s for another day.

In fact, the multiple careers that you choose to pursue help express a part of who you are. Your talents, your passions and your dreams.

The case for multiple careers

1. More resilient income streams

As we’ve seen in this Covid-19 pandemic, businesses can shut down overnight. We can all lose our jobs overnight too. And from a stable income each month, your income will go to zero the next day if that happens.

By building more than one career, you’ll not be putting all of your eggs into one basket. You’ll be utilising your skills and talents to serve multiple employers or clients. And if a crisis hits one of them, the other might still be around to provide you with a stream of income.

2. Greater expression of your diverse interests

Maybe you are one of those who think that a job is just a job. You’ll just show up. Do what you need to do. Get paid. And move on to things that you enjoy doing. If that’s you, great!

But if you are one of those who have diverse interests. And you don’t want to confine yourself to spending 8 hours or more fulfilling the requirements of only 1 role. And you believe that a job is more than just a job. It’s where your talents and skills meet somebody else’s needs or wants.

Then maybe building at least 1 other career can help you to express more of who you are.

3. Building careers unique only to you

Competing for jobs is tough. Especially in a globalised world where remote working makes it possible to hire talents from around the world.

How many people are better than you in programming? Or teaching? Or the thing that you do?

But what if you have a solid foundation in design, good experience in teaching, basic knowledge of programming and can play more than 1 musical instrument? Even if you are not yet the top expert in any of those fields, can you find anyone else who has that breadth of experience? Can you find anyone else who can code-switch with ease and speak the language of those disciplines?

Of course, it takes work to combine all your interests. Furthermore, you might want some of your interests to remain as hobbies and not work. After all, they can be there to help you decompress after a fulfilling day at work.

But perhaps building more than 1 career could help you build a personal brand that is unique only to you. Then, you’ll find yourself competing in a market with no other.

The silver lining in this Covid-19 pandemic

However, it’s a challenge if your productivity is measured by how long you are glued to your seat at your work desk. How are you going to have time to pursue another career?

The need to work from home this year might just be what we need to convince everyone (I hope) that we don’t have to measure our productivity by the amount of “seat time” we clock at our desks.

Many of us don’t measure our productivity by the amount of stuff we produce (as in factory work), but by the quality of our work. So does it still make sense to spend 8 hours when we could complete our daily tasks in 6 hours?

Hopefully, as more managers see that their subordinates still can get work done without being under constant supervision, more employers would be open to flexible work arrangements.

With the potential increase in flexible work arrangements, would you want to start building multiple careers? If so, in what fields?

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