Reading List: Working Identity

Working Identity – Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra is a must read for those currently in or contemplating a career transition or career reinvention. Ibarra is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD.

The book is not a “how to,” but instead offers a summary of Ibarra’s research focused on the question: how do people change careers?  Based upon the case studies presented in the book and supporting research, several guidelines, referred to as Unconventional Strategies, emerge.

  1. Act your way into a new way of thinking and being.  You cannot discover yourself by introspection.
  2. Stop trying to find your one true self.  Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about.
  3. Allow yourself a transition period in which it is okay to oscillate between holding on and letting go.  Better to live the contradictions than to come to a premature resolution.
  4. Resist the temptation to start by making a big decision that will change everything in one fell swoop.  Use a strategy of small wins, in which incremental gains lead you to more profound changes in the basic assumptions that define your work and life.  Accept the crooked path.
  5. Identify projects that can help you get a feel for a new line of work or style of working.  Try to do these as extracurricular activities or parallel paths so that you can experiment seriously without making a commitment.
  6. Don’t just focus on the work.  Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide support for the transition.  But don’t expect to find them in your same old social circles.
  7. Don’t wait for a cataclysmic moment when the truth is revealed.  Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through.  Practice telling and retelling your story.  Over time, it will clarify.
  8. Step back.  But not for too long.
  9. Change happens in bursts and starts.  There are times when you are open to big change and times when you are not.  Seize opportunities.

Why read this book?  By my own anecdotal evidence, only 1 person out of 5 are in a career that vaguely resembles the first job they had after graduation.  Said another way, roughly 80% of professionals will go through at least one career transition (or reinvention) within ten years of graduating college.  Working Identity helps sort through the process for yourself by understanding the transition others have completed a