Balance, Book reviews, Career Advancement, Entrepreneurship

Hate your job? Have many unrelated jobs? Here’s how your career can still tell a story

With many of us changing jobs after just a few years or working multiple, unrelated projects, it’s hard to see what ties our work experiences together. This confusion –and, as far as I can tell, its prevalence in the social sector– is why I was excited to read Body of Work and speak with the author, Pamela Slim (stay tuned tomorrow for our interview!).

When we spoke, Pam Slim explained how authors often claim, no matter evidence to the contrary, that their books appeal to audiences of all walks of life. She joked that comments like that can make publishers’ eyes roll, but all joking aside, and without risk of over exaggeration, Body of Work, really could prove valuable for anyone in any field or profession. After all, it teaches us that, among other lessons, our current job is only one small piece of a much bigger puzzle. This is a book that can both comfort and challenge you; it answers questions and asks even more.

BodyofWork_cover The “thread that ties your story together”

In an era when switching from one job to the next –whether or not by choice– is becoming increasingly frequent, Pam Slim’s humorous mix of conceptual and practical approaches to building a body of work is an important, well-researched, and inspiring read. Her expertise in entrepreneurship, central to her fist book Escape from Cubicle Nation, shines through here, too, as she examines new ways of describing and delineating our careers. He approach is broad, defining a body of work as “everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact”.

How do you do it? Here, a sampling of the steps involved:

  • Name your ingredients. Simply writing a resume requires that you begin to take stock of your personal mix of ingredients: skills, strengths, experiences, values, and knowledge. What’s more useful here are tips for creating context for your less attractive ingredients, like a failed business venture or shorter-than-normal stint with your last employer. Don’t gloss over your missteps or failures, Slim warns, and don’t allow shame to dampen the uniqueness of it all. Instead, focus on what each mistake has taught you and how it has reinforced the vision that drives you to succeed.
  • Choose your work mode. Body of Work heralds the era of the side hustle –a project we take up even as we continue with our primary pursuits– and encourages the reader to use each venture as a chance to build new skills, create alternative career paths, and bring in a little extra income. The side hustle allows us to explore different work modes, too. Maybe it’s conducted online when your day job finds you sitting in front of a computer screen or making countless site visits. By incorporating different work modes and identifying the few that fit us best through our side hustles, we can more effectively build a body of work.
  • Surf the fear. The current work environment described in the book is both liberating and intimidating. Yes, you may have a job that is entirely (and frustratingly) predictable, but with that predictability comes stability – a quality we’ll continue to see less of as the landscape shifts. Sacrificing the safety of knowing where your next paycheck is coming from can be scary, and our instinct is to avoid that fear. But, Slim suggests, “our best defense in life is to lean into the fear. Feel the emotion. Take a blow or two in order to really learn what you need to protect.” In these situations, she challenges us to flip on our “winner switch”, changing our perspective and regaining our confidence whenever fear kicks in.
  • Share your story. As important as building a cohesive body of work is the ability to customize and communicate it in a compelling way, both to yourself and to others. Not just a useful skill for job interviews, good storytelling extends to cultivating new clients, new donors, new friends, and new mentors, and can be applied in countless other aspects of our daily lives.

Making room for a body of work

The investment of time and energy required to make these changes is considerable, and, during our interview, Pam suggested revisiting your body of work road map at least once a quarter. The question is, then, given everything else on your plate, could you pursue one step and not the others? Do we really need to create a space for building a body of work or is an effort to generally be more adaptable and better prepared enough?

No doubt adopting any one of Pam’s suggestions would make you all the more equipped for today’s work environment, and the book falls short of convincing the reader that a meaningful career can only be had when completely defined in this way (after all, what’s so bad about having two completely unrelated careers in one lifetime and spending all of our free time tied to the television?), but it’s most promising taken all together for those who buy in to it and clear our schedules once a quarter to review. And I see no reason why you shouldn’t.

One of Pam Slim’s central theories, and one that will resonate especially with social sector workers, is that anyone can and should strive to be of service to others and to think about impact and the legacy we leave. You can make a difference no matter your job title since your body of work isn’t just about what you’re paid to do.

Most importantly, she reminds us that our legacy doesn’t need to be built behind a desk or between the hours of 9 and 5: good news for those of us who have fallen victim to an unfair job market or who feel intense pressure to score that perfect position.

We’re becoming increasingly aware that the old lines are blurred. Body of Work can help us manage and thrive.

Want more from Pam? Stay tuned for our interview!

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About Kari Mirkin

Kari's underlying philosophy of work in the nonprofit sector is that we need to ensure equal and easy access to the things that make us who we are: the arts, culture, and lifelong learning. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, she received her Master’s of Nonprofit Organizations from Case Western Reserve University and is one of the co-founders of YNPN Cleveland. You can find her on Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn, and access a report she helped research and write here.

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