Summer Book Review #9: Working Identity

Driving yesterday I heard an NPR story on WCAI, the Cape & The Islands (CAI) radio.  They broadcast a show entitled “The Moth”  which features audio storybooks of everyday Americans.  Their first story really gripped me:  an  autobiography by Aimee Mullins, a young women who lost both of her legs at birth and has used prosthetic limbs ever since.

Ms. Mullins told a truly amazing story about her life and her various opportunities to touch the lives of others.   One was a little girl who also had an artificial limb.  At the time Aimee first met her she had been struggling.  Kind of ‘just’ getting along –  setting no great expectations for herself while locked inside the world’s limited view of her capabilities.  Aimee inspired her to re-frame her expectations for herself and for those around her.

At a chance meeting a year or two later Aimee encountered this same little girl – now sporting a pink prosthetic limb with High School Musical stickers.  At its base she wore sparkly Mary Jane shoes.  This transformation touched Aimee.  She ended her NPR piece teary-eyed saying, “until we embrace our differences the true gifts that we have to share with this world won’t come out.”

This week’s book, “Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career,” by Herminia Ibarra winds a similar tale.  The author challenges readers to re-frame the questions used to evaluate career choices all the while introducing a practical approach to transition.  She addresses the often ignored “how” of changing careers in her book.   While I wasn’t hanging on my chair to read it, I found many, many useful ideas that could benefit women in transition — any transition – career or otherwise.

Her approach is refreshingly simple.  Ibarra debunks the view that career change is realized after many introspective moments and a good plan.  Rather she approaches it like one of my favorite IT transition planning techniques: the pilot –  prove –  proceed approach.   Ibarra encourages readers to envision many possible future selves and to test each to see how they might fit.

Ibarra is also a grown up about undertaking career transition while still working,  She alludes often to our friend William Bridges; he too a career transition example and author of our 2nd Summer Book Review, Transitions.  Here are a few Ibarra thoughts that might intrigue you:

  • Change includes living through long periods of uncertainty and self-doubt.  (Working Identity, pg 19)   Ibarra invalidates the career transition approach that focuses on a search for the “one true self” buried deep within our conscience. (Working Identity, pg 33)
  • Change can be small adjustments or deep shifts in perspective. (Working Identity, pg 67)  Barriers to change can include our pre-conceived notions about viable work arrangements AND our existing connections like family members. (Working Identity, pg 83)
  • The biggest mistake in thinking about career change is delaying the 1st step until one has “settled” on a destination.  Rather, she advises “crafting experiments.”  (Working Identity, pg 91-96)  Experiments from Ibarra’s perspective allow us to re-frame the questions guiding a career search. (Working Identity, pg 98)

I guess you guys are part of an exploratory test on my part.  You see I’ve often dreamed about being a social commentator.  I’ve also always been very vocal about women’s issues.  The net of it is this blog is exploratory for me; it has allowed me to unconsciously dedicate myself to exploration and to learn so much about that which I care deeply.  Who knew?

The little girl with the sparkly shoes had been locked inside other people’s perspective of what she could or should do.  When challenged she changed the set of questions she asked herself.   It took only a single encounter to initiate the change for Aimee Mullins’ little friend.  I wonder what it may take for me or you?

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19 responses to “Summer Book Review #9: Working Identity

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