Today, I spoke to Paula Caligiuri, whois the author of Get a Job, Not a Life: Do What You Love and Let Your Talents Work for You, and a Professor in the Human Resource Management Department at Rutgers University where she has directed the Center for HR Strategy since 2001. In this interview, Paula discusses work/life balance, why getting a life is better than getting a job, how to layoff-proof your job, how to identify your career, and more.

Paula, what’s your opinion on work/life balance? Is there such a thing still?

The word “balance” sets up a win-lose competition, usually for time. I like the phrase work-like harmony to describe the state of maximizing both the desires you have for your career and the desires you have for your personal life. Yes, I believe there is still work-life harmony, especially among those who have started taking greater control of their careers, designing their lives to include their careers – and not vice versa. For those who enjoy what they do for a living, the time they spend working is enjoyable and increases life satisfaction; they describe becoming completely absorbed in a work-related activity and losing track of time (i.e., achieving a state of flow).

Why should someone get a life instead of a job?

The title of my book “Get a Life, Not a Job” underscores my belief that you should design your career around your natural talents, abilities and passions, your values, and preferences for how you like to work. A job, as traditionally characterized by a 40-hour/week employment situation, takes the control from you and gives it fully to an employer. Your employer controls jobs and configures them, as needed, in order to compete. You cannot control your job, but you can control your career and, of course, your life.

While the past two generations of professionals have never placed a higher value on fulfilling their passions in their careers, today’s low job security and high unemployment have made them too terrified to leave jobs that are uninspiring but considered “safe,” in their minds. The result is that too many have become paralyzed and unhappy at work, reducing their life satisfaction for the sake of their jobs. Not surprisingly, the Conference Board found that 55% of Americans are not satisfied with their jobs. I wrote “Get a Life, Not a Job” to get beyond outdated ideas about how we define work and jobs to help people completely redesign their careers to be both secure and fulfilling.

Is it realistic to “layoff-proof” your current job?

I believe there is a better approach to providing greater job security but it requires a change in your relationship with work, away from the single employer mentality. I strongly advocate a more self-directed approach where your passions and talents are configured into multiple income streams or career acts. Just as the riskiest financial investment strategy is to have all of your money in one place, the riskiest career management strategy is to have all of your income from one employer. I believe people should have a portfolio career comprised of multiple income streams or career acts.

If you work for a single employer, unlike the past, your outstanding, reliable, and excellent performance is necessary — but no longer sufficient — to shield you from downsizings and layoffs. If you want to “layoff-proof” your job with a single employer, I recommend that you work in the unit most critical for the success of the organization, and not in ancillary roles and support functions. Much has changed in the way human talent is managed in organizations over the past decade. Be proactive and own your career destiny within the company. With so many training budgets being cut, or differentially allocated to those in wealth-creating roles, I would recommend you self-initiate professional development and career moves that bring you closer to the strategic core of the organization. The greatest shield you can give yourself is to anticipate how your organization is changing strategically – and then build your skills in a unique way to move into a more critical role.

How does one identify what their career should be and what steps should they take?

Self awareness is a big – but not often easy – first step. Identifying one’s ideal set of career acts takes a healthy understanding of what do you enjoy, how you like to work, your talents, your motivators, and the like. I want everyone to uncover how to make money doing what they love. But this process of self-discovery is a bit more challenging than it may seem. For some people it helps to reconnect with their career dreams; what would you want to be if you could be anything? Then ask yourself “why”? The answer may shed some light on ideal career acts. For other people, they have an easier time articulating what they don’t like in work, compared to what you do and that is not a bad place to start.

Then, once you know the goal, work on the plan for getting there. For example, what additional skills do you need? How do you break in? It helps to talk to a variety of people with the career to which you aspire.

What are some wealth-building activities that you recommend?

I believe having a portfolio career, comprised of multiple career acts, for the greatest professional security and financial freedom. Career acts can take a variety of forms from small businesses through profitable hobbies. After dozens of interviews for “Get a Life, Not a Job,” successful portfolio careers were as diverse as the people who occupy them. For example, Adam is a successful novelist who is a yoga instructor. Grayson is a cross-cultural trainer who runs a business to help international MBA students succeed in the USA. Monica is an organizational consultant who is a garden coach and designs websites for small businesses. Tom is a systems consultant who invents and sells electric bicycles and also owns rental properties. David is a graphic designer who is also a voice-over professional.

Multiple career acts build wealth and security because they add more to most people’s number #1 asset, their career. Examples of career acts include an eBay business, part-time job, profitable hobby, non-executive board seat, franchise, authored book, affiliate links on your blog, weekend jazz trio, etc. The possibilities are endless but all rooted in what you enjoy doing, your talents and the way you like to work.

How would the portfolio approach you suggest in “Get a Life, Not a Job” help improve one’s personal brand?

If you manage your personal brand across multiple career acts you are better able to fully develop your public image. Through multiple career acts, you have more ways to demonstrate skills and build a network. Your personal brand becomes more interesting and distinctive when it is expressed through the multiple career acts of a portfolio career. In most cases, employers are attracted to candidates who bring a greater diversity of demonstrated talents to their roles, viewing them as possessing more skills and abilities from which to draw in the future. When well-orchestrated to be true to yourself, multiple career acts will improve your personal brand.

Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D. is the author of Get a Job, Not a Life: Do What You Love and Let Your Talents Work for You (FT Press, 2010). She is a Professor in the Human Resource Management Department at Rutgers University where she has directed the Center for HR Strategy since 2001. Dr. Caligiuri has been recognized as one of the most prolific authors in the field of international business for her work in global careers, international human resource management, and global leadership development. For human resource management professionals she has also written (with Steven Poelmans) Harmonizing Work, Family, and Personal Life (Cambridge Press, 2008) and (with Dave Lepak and Jaime Bonache) Managing the Global Workforce (Wiley, 2010). Dr. Caligiuri has covered career-related topics for CNN and has hosted a pilot for a television show, CareerWATCH. She holds a Ph.D. from Penn State University in industrial and organizational psychology.