Unless you've been living in a hole in the ground for the last 20 years, it's probably not news to you that traditional job security in the form of a steady, decades-long career with a single company is dead and buried.

It's also probably not news to most busy professionals that both anecdotal evidence and recent studies suggest that finding both professional fulfillment and some semblance of work-life balance is increasingly difficult.

What do these two obvious points about today's career landscape have in common? Both have the same solution, according to Horacio Falcao, a professor at European business school INSEAD.

Invest your time like you invest your money.

"Compartmentalising our lives into 'personal' and 'professional' and assigning emotional value judgments to each--work being grim routine, personal life an elusive respite--is a path to unhappiness," Falcao points out in INSEAD Knowledge, while also noting that "our careers are getting longer, and our jobs less secure."

Dumping all your eggs into one basket when it comes to work, therefore, tends to result in both unhappiness -- as you burn yourself out devoting all your energy to a single goal -- and insecurity. "What happens if, after investing 15-20 years in your job or firm, you feel you're not getting the return on investment you expected?" Falcao asks. "You could find another stable but demanding job, but there's no guarantee the new job will be any more fulfilling in the long term. You could drop your job and pursue your passions, but that carries huge risks."

The solution to this conundrum, according to Falcao, is to borrow the wisdom of best-selling author and investor Nicholas Nassim Taleb and diversify your career portfolio from the outset using the "barbell strategy."

"Taleb advises putting about 90 percent of one's money into extremely safe options and getting adventurous with the rest. That way, investors can benefit from the big potential wins and forward-looking options afforded by diversification, without risking too much," he explains. "Play only on the extremes of safe and speculative; avoid anything in between. Hence, the resemblance to a barbell, where the weights are at both ends, with nothing in the middle."

The barbell career.

Translated into a career strategy that means taking at least one safe gig and one that's high risk and high reward (a type of job which Falcao terms "Specbell"). "Depending on your situation, viable Specbells might include online courses, charity work, a part-time business, or even spending a few hours a week working in a different department of your company. You can follow your passions, even the non-paying ones, without overhauling your lifestyle," he writes.

Rather than try to strike a balance between work and home, risk and reward, and always finding yourself torn and dissatisfied with middling compromises, this strategy promises to make you both happier and more comfortable in an uncertain world. Not only does it help you sharpen your skills and avoid getting in a career rut, but "the barbell strategy also lets people engage in trial and error, to tinker and to make small 'right' mistakes that help them learn and improve empirically, but do not break them," Falcao concludes.

Could the barbell strategy work for you?

Published on: Jun 22, 2015