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Some refreshing viewpoints, but who is the audience?
on October 16, 2003
I have read the "What Color is you Parachute"- types of career management books and, as Ibarra says in Working Identity, while books such as these provide useful, introspective exercises for inventorying your skillsets and interests, they have never provided me with the magical answer I was looking for in terms of what I want to do with my life. If anything I actually became more frustrated, because I had invested all of this time doing the exercises and still only had a few faint ideas for careers that might interest me.
Working Identity provides a very refreshing perspective, and one that I agree with. That while introspection is good and necessary, it is doubtful that introspection alone will provide us with the answer of what we want to do. Rather, only through new experiences and relationships will we begin to "think out of the box", so to speak, and get a true sense for what we enjoy and for what motivates us.
I highly recommend this book to anybody who feels stuck in a professional rut and is not quite sure how to get out of it. Not only will you be able to empathize with some of the individuals in the case studies, but I believe the book will help you to begin thinking in a new way, in terms of how to initiate change in your life.
However, I do have a few criticisms of the book. At several times I had to ask myself who was Ibarra's intended audience, career changers or her fellow professors? Many times it just sounded unnecessarily "academic" in tone, particularly in the beginning of the book where she uses several pages to form "models" for her particular theories. Again, it is as if her audience at this point are her fellow professors and academians, rather than simply the frustrated individual who is trying to create a career change. It is not difficult to understand, but she just makes it sound much more complicated than it needs to be, when in reality the theory/model is just common sense: Make a list of things you're interested in, go explore them a bit, and then go with the flow based on how that experience makes you feel.
Another criticism I have is that all of the individuals highlighted in her case study examples are very highly educated, and seemingly have done very well for themselves financially. In and of itself this is not a problem, in that the case studies are still interesting. The subjects she uses are most likely a product of the circles in which she runs, as Ibarra is, after all, a professor. However, I really would have liked to see more diversity in the subjects that she chose, as I think the book could really have spoken to a lot more people who are struggling with career change.
For example, she frequently cites that "taking a sabbatical" from work is one great way to break out of the box and start looking at some new interests. No doubt, a sabbatical sounds really great to must of us, but unfortunately the reality is that there are not many people who can afford to just stop working. There are plenty of very intelligent, educated professionals who are supporting families or have other committments, and it's just not realistic for them to take a sabbatical. Of course, it would be impossible for Ibarra to address every different situation, but I would have liked to see her stretch the case studies beyond the $100K+ professional with a Master's or PhD. Again, this is just another area where I think Ibarra makes the change process sound more complicated than it needs to be. My personal suggestion to someone who is not in a financial position to "take a sabbatical" would be simply to volunteer an hour or two a week in a charity, church, or other organization that is important to you, where you have the opportunity to use and explore some different skills than what you would normally do during your work day. I have personally found this to be very valuable, but for some reason I never saw volunteering suggested by Ibarra in her book.
These criticisms aside however, this book is revolutionary in that it challenges 95% of the career change advice that is out there right now and provides a new and very refreshing perspective on how an individual will typically journey towards change. It is not a "how to" book that provides a step by step process, but rather a book that will help you "think out of the box" and come up with ideas that you can apply in your own life. Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone who 1. has been frustrated with the traditional career change books (as I was), and/or 2. who just feels they are in a career rut and isn't quite sure how to break out.
Best of luck to you!