Book Review: The Opt-Out Revolt

kaleidoscopeThe Opt-Out Revolt by Lisa A. Mainiero and Sherry E. Sullivan is not just about women leaving the workforce to care for children, though the title might lead you to believe that. Packed densely with the results of research into the shape of people’s careers, this book offers insight and perspective to independent web workers and corporate employees alike.

The subtitle of the book Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers reflects the broader scope of the work. Mainiero and Sullivan, professors of management at Fairfield University and Bowling Green State University respectively, suggest that women in particular are much less likely to follow the conventionally accepted linear and progressive model of a career:

Consider the working of a kaleidoscope; as one part moves, the other parts change. Women understand that any decision they make in their careers creates change in others’ lives. Like a kaleidoscope that produces changing patterns when the tube is rotated and its glass chips fall into new arrangements, women shift the patterns of their careers by rotating different aspects of their lives to arrange their roles and relationships in new ways.

The researchers used four major online surveys and in-depth interviews totaling over 3,000 women and men to develop their understanding of people’s career decisions. Initially focusing on women, they soon realized that changes in the working world affect men also, though men are subject to different expectations and opportunities than women.

Men face what they call the Male Straitjacket, where men’s identities are inextricably linked with their work and where a steady march upwards is the only acceptable path. Fortunately, as we know here at Web Worker Daily, many men especially those from Gen X and Gen Y don’t accept that model, and instead choose alternate paths like freelancing, stay-at-home fatherhood, and regular sabbaticals from the workforce.

Mainiero and Sullivan propose that throughout the lifetime, each person tries to pursue challenge, authenticity, and balance, prioritizing them differently at different times. They suggest that there are two main models over the life cycle: the Alpha sequential model, where the person pursues challenge then authenticity then balance and the Beta simultaneous model where challenge then balance then authenticity are prioritized.

This book covers not only Mainiero and Sullivan’s research but also puts it into context of other work on careers. For example, they describe Tim Hall’s concept of protean careerists, “able to repackage and market their skills, moving from firm to firm or project to project and gaining increased independence from employers.” That sounds to me like how many web workers pursue their careers.

If you’re looking for light career self-help, this is probably not the right book for you, filled as it is with discussions of research studies and populated liberally with footnotes. It ends with a chapter on how corporations and government should change to meet the needs of kaleidoscope careerists, coverage that’s not so relevant to people looking to use the web to support loosely-coupled professional relationships and a balanced lifestyle.

However, if you want an understanding of new models of work, set into the context of current research, this is an inspiring and enlightening look at them. Mainiero and Sullivan’s ideas may be of even more value to men than women, since women already have, for the most part, dispensed with the idea of a never-ending grueling climb up the career ladder.

Are you building a kaleidoscope career or climbing a career ladder? What do you prioritize: challenge, authenticity, balance, or a mixture?