A group of San Francisco alumnae of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts recently organized a marvelous summit called “Passion and Possibility in Life and Work.” As a 1970 grad, I appeared to be the oldest woman in the room, maybe by a couple of decades. Yet my experience mirrors that of the many 21st-century alumnae: A job can be a useful way to establish your cred, skills, and contacts, but it’s unlikely to pave your career path.
Remember those concrete-mixing trucks whose drums bore the motto “Find a need and fill it”? Like our college’s 1837 founder, Mary Lyon, we don’t look for vacancies in the existing economic machine so much as for needs to fill. The 21st century is the Age of the Entrepreneur. For one woman this might mean forcing open enough doors to wield her expertise in a government position, then an NGO, then academia and/or independent consulting. For another, it’s linking friends in different organizations who can collaborate not only to place water-collection systems in underdeveloped countries, but to set up instructional programs for the users, and find incentives for financial backers. For another, it’s funneling her experience with a media corporation into freelance work and then her own start-up.
The great thing about the new economy is that you can be an “emerging artist” at any age. Whether we’re in the starting blocks or the home stretch of our vocations, the path looks less like a track than a mosaic. Each of us chooses her own direction. In publishing, where I spent my apprentice years chafing against conventions that often violated common sense, now the workers own the means of production (or at least a hefty share). This is liberating: every independently published book can be written at the length its subject demands, launched when it’s ready, and marketed in ways that suit it and its author. It’s also daunting: although a true meritocracy is now theoretically possible, the feet on which it stands are Monetization and Discoverability. Are the cleverest marketers also the best content-creators?
From this vantage point, all that’s certain is that the landscape will keep changing. Stay tuned!