They say, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” However, this age-old belief is no longer applicable in this new era as juggling many jobs or multiple careers become a rising trend. But, does having one or multiple careers define one’s existence?
This article does not provide an exact answer. But it raises new questions, “Do we truly have a choice? Can the young working population stick to just one occupation when portfolio careers (slash work and moonlighting) dominate the job market?”
What is a career?
It is helpful to understand the concept of “a career” before digging into “multiple careers.” A career is commonly perceived as a job we commit to for a long time or even for life. In this sense, multi-careers means taking on more than one job at a time or sequentially pursuing different occupations that suit our abilities during different phases in life.
Under this definition, a career is often confused with a job. At its simplest, a job is something we do to earn a living. Meanwhile, a career doesn’t necessarily limit to a specific job we do for long term in exchange for money. A career, as defined by Oxford English Dictionary, is an individual’s progress through life.
A career is a metaphor for an individual’s journey through learning, work, and other aspects of life. Suppose you are naturally gifted with numbers and dedicate yourself, with your parental support and investment, to studying mathematics, economics, finance, informatics, social statistics, or any other math-related subjects. As a result, you become a specialist in your field, and your career is a testimony to the journey you have made to be where you are now.
The concept of “multiple careers” is the refinement of the above definition of a career. Proponents of slash careers argue that humans are born with more than one ability, and thus pursuing a single profession or focusing on a single career means diminishing other available yet less frequently used abilities. “Should humans operate like single-task machines for a lifetime?” they wonder.
Having multiple careers does not simply mean managing more than one job at a time. The concept suggests that our abilities can only reach their potential when they are employed to serve a wide range of tasks in different jobs, even in related fields.
The growing ubiquity of the internet has reshaped human life, which sets the stage for multiple careers. It also paves the way for different types of work which can be coordinated through the internet, such as remote work and gig work. Some typical internet-generated jobs include tech-based drivers, freelancers, and digital content creators.
Portfolio careers are different from temporary employment and holding multiple jobs. Exclusive of short-term gigs, this new career model aims at diversifying an individual’s income from their various strengths and hobbies that they can engage in for life. Moreover, multi-careers are set to eliminate the line between work and life.
Blurred lines between paid work, voluntary work, and hobbies
The advent of the internet, the rise of online jobs, the trend of multiple careers, and many others are manifestations of a post-work scenario. Post-work doesn’t imply the abolition of work. It redefines our perception of work instead.
It was not until two centuries ago that the black-and-white thinking between unemployment and employment came into existence. This split has caused many people to continue slogging through their deeply unfulfilling job because unemployment leaves them even more miserable and because work has become the new religion.
There was no clear separation between work and life in the old days. Humans were born to work instead of working for a living because their survival depends on work.
Slash careers blur the lines between common concepts in modern working life, including paid work, voluntary work, and hobbies. These categories often stand independent and rarely form a connection.
More often than not, a salaried job leaves us unfulfilled, whereas we earn no money from voluntary work. Meanwhile, a hobby delights us without necessarily generating an income. The boundaries among them, however, will no longer exist if we become a Youtuber, Tiktoker, or content creator on other platforms.
On the bright side, when work fits into our daily life, we can live on not just one but many hobbies simultaneously. We do not perform as single-task machines in the working space. Instead, we can exercise our labor power at will and enjoy true freedom.
That said, multiple careers have their limitations which we should take into account for the sake of our living quality.
Does more freedom mean less stability?
A precarious living
The idea of pursuing what we love and earning multiple streams of income out of it has yet to become popular among the majority of the population. Freedom often comes at the price of a more unstable working life. There is a more abundant labor supply as many people land multiple jobs simultaneously for long periods.
It results in either a cheaper labor cost or a lower level of employee commitment from an employer’s perspective.
The concept of “doing what we like” actually derives from the content creation industry, where information surplus in paid work, voluntary work, and personal interests can become data for digital platforms.
Apart from salary from your main job, other sources of income come from ads where your productivity per unit of time determines how much you earn. As a result, you must maintain all your gigs on a regular basis to ensure a stable flow of income. However, this does not guarantee that your following and their interest will grow steadily over time.
Also, advocates of slash careers are seemingly negligent of one important thing. Even when we can pursue an interest-based career, like launching a YouTube channel about photography, we are always in the hands of a boss (or bosses). We are not controlled by a dictatorial manager who threatens to deduct our salary in a conventional workplace but by the digital platform and the market itself. Neither of these agents would offer help if we fail to win against competitors.
Multi-careers are not sunny-side scenarios where you only need to pursue your passion, and money will follow. Money still acts as an evaluating agent of the meaning of work. And we have to ensure productivity in exchange for income.
Suppose we are constantly worried about productivity in our hobby-based job. How terrifying would it be?
Productivism emphasizes the positive correlation between our passion and productivity.
Take content creation for example. Your passion can contribute to an excellent blog post. But that same passion does not necessarily imply a shorter writing time. More often than not, a longer production time causes a failure to achieve our productivity goals. It is also the case for other hobby-based occupations, such as painting, photography, and poetry.
Besides, productivism can interfere with a healthy personal life. Removing the work-life boundaries means we must stay productive even in our life. Our personal pursuit of happiness now becomes a pursuit of money. It’s such a sacrifice that probably few people are willing to make.
In short, multiple careers are promising but will come with pains and struggles. We should avoid turning this wonderful trend into another form of self-exploitation just so we can jump on the bandwagon. Career — or careers — whatever you choose it to be, should be based on what you believe in and on what makes you fulfilled.