Home Careers Treat Your Career Like Your 401(k): You Need Diversification
Treat Your Career Like Your 401(k): You Need Diversification

Treat Your Career Like Your 401(k): You Need Diversification

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Last week, a colleague shared an article that explained why everyone should have at least two careers during their working years. I’ve always supported that idea. I have degrees in different disciplines, experience in various industries within the human resources field, and experience in complementary fields.

I’ve always made the analogy that your career is like your 401(k) plan – you need to diversify. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

The market has fluctuated dramatically during my adult years, and I have found the practice of maintaining my skill base to be useful when the market shifts. For example, when it seems as if there is a saturation of workers in one field, I have successfully transitioned to an area in demand.

New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Kabir Sehgal describes different scenarios when it makes sense to have a diversified approach to career development. He himself has four vocations: Sehgal is a corporate strategist at a Fortune 500 company, a U.S. Navy Reserve officer, the author of several books and a record producer.

He is constantly asked the following questions:

  • How do you find the time to do everything?
  • Why do you have multiple careers?
  • When do you sleep?

Sehgal’s response is he does what makes him happy.  I understand that because I live that type of life, too.

Being Stagnant in My Degree Altered My Career Plans

When I became stagnant in one academic pursuit, I enrolled in another type of institution for a different degree in a different field. I was at a point in my life where I could do that for a short period. Of course, I was not sure where I was going to end up. I just knew it was time to make a move and explore.

During this period of exploration, I did make a common mistake. First, I attempted to get an MBA, but I hated the program.

After that, I attempted a master’s degree in counseling. I took a couple of courses, but I did not complete the program because I realized I didn’t need a degree in that area.

I knew I had to do something different, but I wasn’t sure what. An invitation I received to attend a meeting of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) became my entre into organizational development and design.

Spending time with ISPI members was exciting, but I still clung to what I knew – human resources from a business perspective. Although I enrolled in a master of management program, I realized at one of ISPI’s annual meetings that my “crossroad” was taking me on another path toward a consulting road. So I enrolled in the master of instructional systems program.

Returning to the Corporate World as a Consultant

After completing the master of instructional systems degree, I went back to the corporate world. I spent about 12 years doing some consulting for a variety of companies, in what we now call employee engagement and organizational effectiveness.

Then, the urge to return to academia came over me. Instead of the administrative side, I wanted to try the academic side and teach. I earned a graduate certificate in online teaching and design. Looking back, it was the perfect time.

While I was completing my doctoral degree, I was fortunate to find a position in higher education and use both my academic and administrative skill sets as a faculty chair. As I grew into that position, I was able to draw on my past experiences.

What do Sehgal and I have in common?

  1. A desire to achieve and maintain happiness. Our goal is to be happy, and we have an idea how to go about finding out what that happiness is.
  2. Good time management skills. We recognize how many working hours on a given day or week we have and we plan our activities accordingly.
  3. Excellent sense of self. We understand what we are capable of and know how to apply our skill sets to make it happen.

Does Diversification Equal Effectiveness in Different Careers?

Some people might wonder whether we can be effective performing so many different roles. My response would be, “Wake up! The gig economy is here and will be even more prevalent in the future.”

There are some people who think as Sehgal and I do for a variety of reasons. However, not everyone can perform a variety of duties while striving for their own goals.

Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to travel. I met people who were performing part-time gigs to earn money, so they could find full-time jobs in their chosen fields. They did not hate their current jobs, but they saw themselves doing something different in the future. To my mind, that’s a practical transition plan without expecting an employer to foot the bill.

Most jobs in our society are still based on an outdated system. Job descriptions are either too simplistic or unachievable, which is why I believe some companies add “other duties as assigned” to their help wanted notices.

Also, many organizational cultures limit what an employee can do in a position. Therefore, a company may not be fully tapping an employee’s potential. The employee’s interests could go beyond what the company is willing to pay and that employee could be allowed to assume a role of responsibility.

Doesn’t it make sense to allow your employees to develop their career transition plans while contributing to your organization? No one should expect a company to be responsible for their happiness, but if you have an interest, explore it. See where it takes you.

Sometimes, you will be in a position to have multiple vocations and make your dreams come true. That’s the beauty of diversification; you seldom become stagnant or unsure of what the next step should be. In most cases, there is always an idea of what the next move should be.

22 Million Americans Are Underemployed and Almost Half Feel Underpaid

Monster contributor Catherine Conlan cites a survey which found that approximately 22 million Americans are underemployed and almost half of these individuals feel they are underpaid. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, when people are not able to satisfy their lower-level needs, they can’t focus on their higher-level ones. For example, an employee’s performance may suffer if he is worried about how to make ends meet.

As long as employees effectively perform their jobs and meet a company’s obligations, they should be free to explore alternatives in their spare time. We need to be careful not to allow a manager’s personal biases to influence how employees choose to further their interests.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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