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When 9 to 5 Is Not Enough: Build a Career You Love

Not everyone wants to work 9 to 5. With gig work becoming more common, influencers turning hobbies into income, and remote work now the norm in some industries, many young workers are finding new ways to build careers.

Some workers want to be their own bosses. Others prefer to follow their creative and professional passions, combining or “stacking” their skills and experience to create careers that they love.

Linear versus non-linear career paths

A career path is often thought of as a straight line: you go to school, graduate, join a company, and spend the rest of your work life climbing the corporate ladder.

This is called a traditional, linear career path. If you follow a linear path, you lock into an occupation or profession for life. You may learn new skills and switch companies from time to time, but you stick with the role you were trained for. Some workers like it this way.

Younger workers are less likely than older ones to pursue a linear career path. Instead, many are choosing non-linear career paths, where their work builds on their strengths and aligns with their interests, and where they use post-secondary learning to add to what they already know.

Pursuing a non-linear career can take a variety of forms:

  • Some people have a full-time job and chase 1 or more side hustles for extra income.
  • Others combine multiple part-time jobs and skills, which is also called “career stacking” or “skill stacking.”
  • Many financially successful social media influencers have used their passions, such as fashion, making art, or blogging, to generate income.

The generalist versus the specialist

If you’re looking to build a non-linear career, you are probably a generalist rather than a specialist.

Generalists are knowledgeable in multiple areas, learn many skills, and use their adaptability to get ahead. Specialists are people with expertise in a specific area.

If you’re a young person today, your parents were probably encouraged to be specialists. A generation ago, people were told that if they weren’t expert in something, they might not succeed. Have you heard the saying “jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s directed at generalists.

But attitudes have changed, and so has the job market. Now, generalists are in high demand. Companies want them partly because their range of knowledge and skills makes them useful as workplaces change in unpredictable ways.

For example, a generalist might be skilled in finance, customer service, written communication, and presentation. Such a person could work closely with customers, help with accounting, and maybe even take charge of the company’s social media. Generalists don’t need to be the best at any single skill. Their strength is in being useful and adaptable.

Some people are still more comfortable being specialists. If that’s you, go for it! The world still needs your skills. But if a non-linear career path is where you’re headed, you probably plan to be a generalist.

Get the skills you need to open your horizons

Skill stacking is a concept that describes how people gain multiple skills either to make themselves more marketable or to pursue multiple passions.

Generalists are often skill stackers. They choose their skills based on what they’re good at, what they’re interested in, and the ways they want to make money. Skill stacking can be an important way to pursue a non-linear career.

Select your ideal skills

It can be a challenge to decide what skills to stack to create the best possible career for yourself. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Use your strengths as a starting point. If you know you’re creative, consider skills such as design or writing. If you’re great with numbers, learn bookkeeping or accounting.
  • Select a goal. What do you hope to achieve with your skills? Do you want to become your own boss, or are you looking to become more useful to a company? Are you thinking of creating multiple streams of income for yourself?
  • Be practical. Think about how your skills will interact with one another. Can you pick up new skills that will support ones you already have? For example, if you’re a good artist, can you learn to teach art to other people?
  • Stay flexible. Skill stacking is all about being able to respond to a rapidly changing job market. Keep your eye on how things are changing and get the skills you need to grab the opportunities you see.

Achieve the learning you need

One you’ve decided what skills you want, you need to figure out how to get them.

One way to learn is on the job. Some workplaces will let you apprentice to a mentor as you learn a new skill. If you work in a place that offers this kind of perk, it can be the simplest and most cost-effective way to learn.

Another way to learn is to sign up for a course. Post-secondary learning no longer requires you to commit to years of study to get a degree or certificate. Instead, you can take individual classes or enrol in a micro-credential course of study. Micro-credentials are short-term, often online routes to gaining specific skills and expertise.

Pursue multiple careers

Some people’s dream is to build many careers at once. This can free them to pursue multiple passions, avoid the boredom that sometimes comes with a 9-to-5 job, and diversify their income.

Sometimes people have multiple careers that fit together in obvious ways—such as an actor who also directs movies, or a technical writer who builds a successful food blog. Others pursue their passions aside from their “day jobs,” such as a human resources professional selling artwork on the side, or a psychologist also working as a tattoo artist.

Having multiple careers can protect you from the burnout that happens to some workers. It can also give you the freedom to make a flexible schedule.

Some people pursue multiple careers where they can be their own boss. If you don’t want to answer to a superior at a company, considering building a non-linear career where you take on gig work. You may even want to look at starting your own business.

Building a non-linear career path can bring financial stability and great joy to your life. If you’ve decided to take this route, set clear goals, manage your time with care, and enjoy your work life to the fullest!

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