Last fall, I was working with a flight attendant who had just built a website for a business she wanted to start. The website contained affiliate links to Amazon for items that just about any flight attendant would need. I used her site several times both to purchase items and to research them. I followed her company on Facebook. I used her as easy access for loved ones when they wanted to buy me holiday gifts.
Unfortunately, within a few months of launch, her site was no longer up. I expected this to happen as it is the course of fate for many entrepreneurs. An idea comes to mind, hard work moves the idea from a concept to a product or service. Then you hit a barrier. A barrier is often a form of change. Life circumstances could change. The level of interest in the idea could change. Many things can change.
I don’t know what changed for her. I only knew that in speaking with her at the time the site was published that change was inevitable. The reason was that she had a flexible professional identity. The platform she had created was something she could do, but not something she had to or even needed to do. It was one of many options for her.
Even being a flight attendant was one of many options for her. In addition to being a flight attendant and an entrepreneur, she was also a teacher. She taught and mentored new flight attendants at the airline. She was also a substitute teacher in the public school system on her days off. Her professional identity was flexible, and her options were many.
During a memorable ride to the airport one afternoon, we chatted about that flexibility because I had it too. I’m a flight attendant. I’m an accountant. I’m a teacher. I’m a writer. I’m a transcriptionist. I’m an entrepreneur. I have a flexible professional identity that can morph into what it needs to be depending on what goal I’m looking to achieve.
She and I discussed how if anything were to happen to the aviation industry, it would be easy for us to move on. Almost a year later, it’s as if that conversation were prophecy.
My dad was the first person to teach me about flexibility in professional identity. He is a retired Air Force officer. When he retired, he had his bachelor’s degree and an MBA. Upon retirement, he went back to school for a Master of Education degree so that he could teach school. He also gained several certifications as he searched for his post-military identity.
Ironically, he found his path through an opportunity with a temporary agency. He started in a position that was below his capabilities. Then he worked his way up in the company. In order to get his foot in the door, he had to have a flexible professional identity. He told me that he left his advanced degrees and certifications off of his resume.
My own professional identity is very flexible. When I applied to be a flight attendant, I submitted a one-page resume focused on customer service. I left off all of my personal accomplishments because I knew they were looking for team players, not people who stood out from the crowd or were looking for advancement. I received an immediate response from every airline I applied to.
I have a folder with multiple versions of my resume depending on whether I am applying for an opportunity that is operations-based, accounting-based, leadership-based, or service-based. I add important information, subtract unrelated contributions, leave in only relevant achievements, and I make sure that everything is 100% accurate and honest. I also make sure that every opportunity I apply for is something I definitely want to do.
Professional flexibility has created an interesting life. I’ve worked positions from Assistant, to Manager, to Director, to Trainer, to Professor, to Flight Attendant. I dabbled in the identities of Minister and Non-Profit Director. Now I’m moving more toward Accountant and Writer.
The world is big. The opportunities are many. Barriers will show up. The more flexible your professional identity is, the easier it will be to navigate change and continue forward on a most interesting, profitable, and successful path.