Exploring the Concept of "Slow Career"

By Sally Gelardin

"Slow Career" is not "no career."  It is about working and making lifework transitions in a conscious and sustainable way - sustainable for body and soul, as well as for putting food on the table and paying the rent or mortgage. It may require tightening one's belt and consuming less, but does not mean reducing the quality of one's life.

The Need 

Before the current downturn, we had seen record interest among seniors in "re-careering" to lower-paid, less-stressful jobs ("The Approaching Senior Surge." Herman Trend Alert, August 12, 2009. www.hermangroup.com). For now, those who haven't been laid off are just hanging onto their current jobs. Many baby boomers who are not ready, or can't afford to retire, are choosing to get out of the fast lane and become entrepreneurs or consultants. Recent college graduates, unable to find jobs in their fields of interest and aware of the importance of living in harmony with their environment, are taking on part-time work, internships, and exploring the country/world.

Who Are the Least Stressed and Why?

Workers and displaced workers of all ages are stressed.  Here are the cities where the least stressed workers live and the reasons why (Self.com November 2009):

  • Fargo, ND, shortest commute
  • NY, NY, safest roads
  • San Jose, CA, most likely to use a seat belt
  • Edison, NJ, least violent crime and rape
  • Billings, MT, least unemployment
  • Provo, UT, least smoking and drinking

San Francisco is the fifth best city to live in for women for the following reasons:

  • Exercise
  • Eating well
  • Shunning cigarettes
  • Getting good sleep all but 6 days a month

In this sluggish economy, slow career is here, whether we like it or not.  We might as well make the best of it and learn as much as we can.  Example to point - the business grad who started a "Creme Brulee" cart in downtown San Francisco, and rose to success by tweeting ("Marketing Small Businesses With Twitter," NY Times, July 22, 2009) or the young woman who was laid off from a retail job and three months later was making bicycle bags under Hambone Designs ("Accidental Entrepreneurs a Sign of the Economy," SF Chronicle, August 12, 2009). She hasn't given up on her job search.

What the Slow Career Is NOT:

  • Power Networking
  • Perfect Elevator Speech
  • Perfect Resume
  • Calling 20 Leads a Day, 5 Days a Week
  • Finding the Perfect Job

What Slow Career IS:

Slow Career is about "Slow Movement," a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace. How it began.... A protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome sparked the creation of the Slow Food organization. Over time, this developed into Slow Travel, Slow Money, Slow Shopping, and Slow Design (Wikipedia). The motivation to go slowly is often a result of failing because you moved too fast. As in the "SuperSlow" Strength Training, "the success of your exercise program is predicted on your achieving failure in each exercise. Rather than viewing failure (of the muscles to work efficiently) as personal failure, it can be viewed as a signal to the body or mind that it needs to get stronger in order to meet the demands being placed on it" (Hutchens, http://www.superslowzone.com/). 

Similarly, individuals who experience "Slow Career" recognize that a shift in career (i.e., ready to move on or change direction, being downsized, not earning a sufficient salary or failing to get a promotion) is a signal that provides them with the impetus to develop stronger life/career understanding to meet the demands of the workplace, employment market, and life, in general.

How I Am Exploring "Slow Career" - and How Can You Explore "Slow Career"?

The way I explore is by reading print and online literature, writing and talking with others, interviewing green leaders and world career experts who make it their business to see patterns and trends and develop strategies for individuals to manage "slow career." When I give myself permission to take time out, I return to nature to explore "slow career," letting my brain rest and listening to birds and the rustling of trees as I walk through the Redwood Forest or along Pt. Reyes beach trails. On a daily basis I walk along an inlet to the San Francisco Bay, sometimes with clients, to let ourselves enjoy the present while we discuss job search, transition, and career and caregiving strategies. 

Here are some questions to think about related to slow career:

1. What does Slow Career mean to YOU?

2. Define a "Sustainable Lifestyle" (What does it include in your life? What is a career issue that you are experiencing right now that is relevant to this topic?)

3. Imagine then write a description of your ideal work environment. Here's what I would write, "I sit in my writing garden under dappled sunlight, inviting others to share their life stories. Together we bask in filtered light, figuring out how to create the future by reflecting upon the past and being fully in the present." The clearer your vision emerges, the more likely it will come true! When you can articulate your ideal work setting to others, you are even closer to creating that environment.

4. List Current Needs associated with this career issue. Examples: Exercise, shorter commute, more community, less work related stress, etc.)

5. What are your Slow Career Strengths? (i.e., Skills, Values , Interests, Personal Style, Learning Style, Family Influences, Inner Motivations, Entrepreneurial Style, Environmental Preferences...)

6. What are your Sources of Support to create a slow and sustainable lifestyle?

Internal Examples:

  • Spiritual Practice
  • Hobbies
  • Exercise
  • Meditation

External Examples:

  • Friends
  • Relatives
  • Work Associates
  • Alumni Colleagues
  • Service Workers (i.e., doctor, lawyer, mailman, hairdresser)

7. What are six Slow Career Options you might explore?

Act Like a Human Being

We can run around in circles trying to be successful in our work and personal lives, but if we want to be "human beings," rather than "human doings," then we need to slow down and reflect upon what is really important to us. Life is too short and frustrating or too long and boring for us to ignore our unconscious yearnings.  

Sally Gelardin Sally Gelardin, Ed.D., is author of Career & Caregiving:  Empowering the Shadow Workforce of Family Caregivers (NCDA, 2009),  "The Emerging Workforce Caregiving Housing Dilemma (The Business Renaissance Quarterly, Summer, 2009), and "Aging in Place and Live/Work Options." Career Planning and Adult Development Journal. Volume 23, Number 4, ISSN 0736-1920. She started the first job club for older workers in Marin County and was co-founder of the San Francisco Spiritual Eldering Group. She is a CDF e-Learning Instructor and offers Careerwell's tele-interviews with career and wellness experts. She can be reached at sal@gelardin.net