Why I Chose a “Slash” Career

Jessica Alba: Entrepreneur/Author/Actress

When I left my job to become a full-time freelance writer in 2001, other freelancers warned me: The business can be “feast or famine,” and it can get a little lonely working all by yourself. Within the first few months, I added a side job as an adjunct instructor at a community college. It gave me an additional revenue stream as well as a reason to get out of my home office and interact with other people. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a freelance writer; I was a freelance writer/teacher.
A few years later, after I got married and my husband also left his job to start a business, we gradually added more income streams and “slashes” to our job descriptions. Over the years, we have earned ongoing income from rental properties, my husband’s farming hobby and partnering with a friend to sell wholesale merchandise on eBay, in addition to our primary businesses. Not only have these various pursuits paid off financially, but they’ve helped keep work interesting and fulfilling.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I began adding income streams in 2001, I was joining the growing ranks of people who define their careers with slashes, whether it’s to boost income, find greater fulfillment in their work or to make a difference. In her book, “One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide to the Slash Career,” Marci Alboher popularized the term “slash career” for those who can’t answer the question “What do you do?” with a single word or phrase. For the book, she interviewed multiple “slashers,” such as a lawyer/minister, nurse/photographer and teacher/decorator.
“We are living in a time when people expect their work to be more than merely a way to pay the bills,” Alboher says. “They want to be fulfilled, and they want their work to reflect their values. Sometimes it’s possible to do that in one cohesive career, but for many it leads to a career built of many strands. So you may do something that’s very practical and left-brain focused and then have another part of your working life that allows you to express yourself more creatively. Or you may do something in the corporate world to earn a living and do something in the arts or the nonprofit space because you want to give back or express yourself creatively.”
Writers, artists and other creative types are “the original slashers,” Alboher says. Those of us who fit into that category “figured out long ago that it pays to have a safe bet or Plan B that you can fall back on if the dreamy part of your career doesn't pan out,” she says. “But now the rest of us are living the same way. That is especially true in the post-recession era.”
If you’d like to add a slash to your own career description, Alboher offers these tips for getting started:

  • You can have it all, but not all at once. Don’t expect to start three careers all at once. Most slash careers “develop over time, beginning with a deep immersion that builds into a mastery,” Alboher says. “Once you hit that place, it's easier to start adding and layering another slash.” 
  • Consider virtual work. “Some of the best ‘slash combinations’ are the ones where it's possible to do some aspects of your work online or at off-hours,” Alboher says. Programmers, graphic designers, writers and others whose work is portable and flexible may find it easier to build slash careers.
  • Don’t make yourself choose between practical and idealistic. Maybe you can’t earn the income you need from working on a cause you care about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue that meaningful work. “One of the primary slash models is the corporate/nonprofit combination,” Alboher says.

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