Creating future selves

Dr Kay Kimber, Director, Centre for Professional Practice

Can we imagine the nature of the professional lives our 2013 Senior cohort might lead in 2023? No doubt many of our graduates will enter medicine, law, science or business in Australia and abroad. No doubt many will distinguish themselves in as yet unimagined but infinitely rewarding careers. Yet will increasing emphases on ‘T-shaped professionals’ and ‘portfolio careers’, or ‘slashers’, diversify their professional pathways in creative ways? What ways of thinking and acting might guarantee professional success amid a future characterised by rapid technological, social and economic change?

To prepare our students for the ‘great unknown’ (Driver, 2013), our academic curriculum, co-curricular activities and service programmes have laid a firm foundation, anticipating workplace skills such as problem-solving, creativity and resilience. In a recent Perspectives article, Téa Angelos (12O) recognised her peers’ greatest assets as ‘the interpersonal skills of resilience, perseverance and determination’ (Angelos, 2013). For Téa, these qualities, which are legacies of the students’ Girls Grammar days, have prepared them to face the ‘uncertainty of the future and fear of the unknown’. As our Seniors — our young professionals of 2023 — prepare to create their own future selves, other perspectives on developing professional lives in challenging times provide some guidance.


First, to build on the legacy of Girls Grammar’s broad-based, liberal education, Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future reminds us that ‘all of us — scholars, leaders, professionals — must continually hone our skills’ (2006, p. 5).

Five Minds for the Future

Gardner drew on his long association with Harvard University’s Project Zero and GoodWork Projects to propose that the work-in-progress of one’s lifetime of intellectual and character refinement could be enhanced by cultivating a ‘quintet of minds’ (2006, p. 153): disciplined, synthesising, creating, respectful and ethical. Individually and collectively, the mindsets impact professional growth, professional conduct, and interpersonal relationships. They stemmed from his theories on multiple intelligences but combined human agency to promise direct, positive benefits to communities. Gardner recommended the conscious nurturing of each as a necessary and ongoing process for professional and personal fulfilment.

The disciplined mind reflects the distinctive mode of thinking in a scholarly discipline, craft or profession, as well as the individual’s own self-discipline in mastering the concepts and knowledge pertinent to that profession.

The synthesising mind selects, filters and evaluates information across disparate sources, but pieces them together in meaningful ways. Given the escalating rate of information growth and diversity of sources, this mindset will be more crucial, especially where judicious decisions are expected. The creating mind forges new ground in existing or uncharted areas. These two mindsets are complementary: the synthesiser ‘seeks order, equilibrium and closure’; the creative thrives on ‘uncertainty, surprise, continual change and disequilibrium’ (Gardner, 2006, p. 98).

The respectful mind engenders harmonious relationships and intercultural cooperation, but its absence means disruption with wider implications in society. The ethical mind ponders the moral dimensions of one’s own actions and the moral imperative for society. Gardner believed that acting respectfully and ethically cuts across career specialisations as these mindsets ‘deal with how human beings — be they scientists, artists, managers, leaders, craftspeople, or professionals — think and act throughout their lives’ (2006, p. 15).

All five mindsets define crucial thinking modes for thriving in a rapidly changing world.

Forecasting our Seniors to 2023 acknowledges the usual ten-year path to master the knowledge, skills and processes of one’s chosen discipline and profession. We know that ‘the life of a professional is not equivalent to the life of a young student [and] students must pick up the distinctive habits of mind and behaviour of the professional’ (Gardner, 2006, pp. 29–30). As they transition from school girls to skilled practitioners, our young women will also learn to appreciate how reflection and lifelong professional development help ensure the currency of their capabilities across changing times.

By 2023, workplaces will no doubt present new norms and constraints. Forbes (2013) has cautioned that already, ‘the traditional, single-track career pattern of the last century (think ladder) is now more difficult to find’ (p. 1). Two trends impacting ‘twenty-something millenials’ (Nathanson, 2012) have been identified: the promotion of ‘T-shaped professionals’ (CERI, 2013; BHEF, 2013) and the rise of ‘portfolio careers’ (Forbes, 2013) or ‘slashers’ (Nathanson, 2012).

T-shaped professionals

Professionals prize their specialised knowledge, their raft of discipline-specific skills and problem-solving expertise in their own domain. These are the ‘I-professionals’, as distinct from the ‘T-shaped professionals’ whose deep problem-solving in their own discipline is augmented by expertise across several other disciplines and systems (CERI, 2013). The deep knowledge and broad competencies of these ‘boundary spanners’ (Gardner, 2011, p. 582) allow their exploration of problems from many different perspectives and identification of universal patterns of behaviour (Donofrio, Spohrer, & Zadeh, 2009).


The University of Cambridge Institute of Manufacturing and IBM have urged universities to enable their graduates ‘to become T-shaped professionals, who are adaptive innovators with a service mindset’ (University of Cambridge, 2008, p. 12) and equipped to make a greater contribution to a twenty-first century, service-driven, global economy. Grounded in their primary discipline, these ‘adaptive innovators’ have strong communication skills and could also realise a continuous stream of innovation in service systems across business, technology and social sciences. IBM’s smart planet university model advocates the development of T-shaped professionals who possess both deep content knowledge and the breadth of competencies spanning several disciplines (BHEF, 2013). Such qualities have been present in certain individuals across time, but according to Philip Gardner (2011), ‘every field will require T-shaped professional development’ if they are to thrive in the years ahead. Earlier, Donofrio, Spohrer and Zadeh (2009), for example, advocated the promotion of T-shaped professionals in medicine, citing the acceleration of knowledge, technology, and the increasing diversity of health care organisations as justification.

Yet economic constraints have accelerated the casualisation of the workforce. Universities promote discipline specialisation for ‘I-’ and/or ‘T-shaped professionals’, yet their own rates of casual employment and short contracts are expanding (Bexley, Arkoudis, & James, 2013). Casual contracts precipitate searches for additional revenue streams through secondary contracts and freelancing. Professor Sharon Parker, organisational psychologist at the University of Western Australia, observed that the ‘job-for-life mentality’ was being replaced by ‘more and more portfolio workers, or people who work multiple part-time jobs with different employers’ (Parker cited in Schaer, 2007, p. 238). From this context, the concept of ‘portfolio careers’ (, 2013) or ‘slashers’ (Lurie, 2011) has emerged.

Portfolio careers

The concept of portfolio careers has been a lifestyle choice for older workers for some time as they seek a more fulfilling work-life blend and greater flexibility. Yet time-management and mental resilience are also required if the mix is to be successful. Current trends, however, show that the concept has been gaining wider popularity with younger workers and professionals. Both Lurie (2011) and Nathanson (2012) believed that the current trend towards multiple professions, passions and interests was being spearheaded by hard-working, creative young people in their twenties and thirties whose portfolio careers were as much about ‘self-discovery’ as lifestyle. Central to the concept is the individual’s creativity in shaping her own mix.


Alboher’s (2007) investigation of the portfolio career phenomenon launched the notion of the ‘slasher’. She found that this trend had become a phenomenon because people of all ages and socioeconomic groups, from different places around the globe, were expressing pride in their ‘slashing’. ‘Slashies’ might hold down three positions at a time, with a predicted seven to ten career changes throughout their working life. Alboher identified several distinct models of slashing that often complemented the many facets to one’s personality and talents: the ‘engineer/museum curator’ was able to exercise both sides of her brain and’ the ‘professor/physical therapist’ extended both mind and body. Now, with the creative marketing possibilities afforded by the internet, entrepreneurship has been added to the slashing mix, as with photographer/journalist or programmer/property developer (Johnson, 2013).

Creating professional selves

Whether our 2013 cohort become I-professionals, T-shaped professionals or slashers, we wish our 2013 Seniors careers that are ‘excellent, ethical, and engaging’ (Gardner, 2006, p. 8). In imagining their future work selves, their conscious cultivation of Gardner’s quintet of minds should help cement those disciplined, synthesising, creating, respectful and ethical mindsets into the fabric of their daily lives and decision-making. Insights from the late Emeritus Professor John Schaar (n.d.), of the University of California, remain salutary:

The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created — created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination.

Go forward, young professionals of 2023. Create your own future selves Enjoy a ‘good life’, rich in ‘good work’.


Alboher, M. (2007). One person/multiple careers: A new model for work/life/success. New York: Warner Business Books.

Angelos, T. (2013, 11 October). Life after high school. Perspectives. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from

Bexley, E., Arkoudis, S., & James, R. (2013). The motivations, values and future plans of Australian academics. Higher Education, 65, 385–400. DOI 10.1007/s10734-012-9550-3

Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF). (2013). The business case for developing twenty-first century workplace competencies. Winter Member Meeting, The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, DC.  Retrieved October 30, 2013, from

College Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University (CERI). (2013). T-shaped professionals. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Donofrio, N., Spohrer, J., & Zadeh, H. (2009). Research-driven medical education and practice: A case for T-shaped professionals. MJA Viewpoint. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from

Driver, T. (2013, 24 October). Into the great unknown. Insights. Retrieved October 31, 2013, from (2013, 27 February). Portfolio careers: Is the latest work trend right for you? Retrieved October 19, 2013, from

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Gardner, P. (2011). Challenges in the nurturing the growth of young T-shaped professionals. Paper presented at the Second International Service Symposium, Indonesia. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from

Johnson, L. (2013, 25 June). Embrace the slasher within to thrive. The Financial Times. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Lurie, D. (2011, 2 February). Graduate job-seeking: The rise of the ‘slasher’. The Guardian. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Nathanson, H. (2012, 7 September). Meet the slashies … the savvy Londoners holding down more than one job. The London Evening Standard. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

Schaar, J. (n.d.). John H. Schaar quotes. Goodreads. Retrieved November 9, 2013, from

Schaer, C. (2007, March). Double duty. Vogue Australia,  236–239. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

University of Cambridge (2008). Succeeding through service innovation: A service perspective for education, research, business and government. London, UK: University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing (IfM). Retrieved October 23, 2013, from


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