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Sector Confusion and Identity

March 15, 2009

I have a friend who introduces himself in social settings as “sector confused.”  I get a kick out of hearing him say this whenever we both find ourselves in groups of people – it reminds me of someone confessing to a mild Krispy Kreme addiction, or announcing an indecisive sexual preference lest anyone get the wrong idea that he had committed yet.

Despite my latent amusement, I have to admit that it’s a useful shorthand way to describe his background to people with short attention spans.  My friend worked for profit-driven businesses in the private sector as a KPMG business management consultant and later, as a real estate developer running his family’s company.  In the non-profit arena, he has served on the boards of directors of numerous charitable organizations and foundations.  Publicly, he has played an integral role in the Democratic Party, including a stint as a state delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

I think my (overscheduled and yes, sleep-deprived) friend’s need to invent vocabulary to describe his background is telling.  Increasingly, the traditional public sector/private sector dichotomy is inadequate to describe what many of us do with our time and energy.  Unlike the generations that preceded us, many of the world’s rising generation of leaders don’t associate their identities with the private sector or the government exclusively, or with profit-driven enterprise as opposed to mission-driven ventures.  So it’s necessary to surpass the confines of readily available language.

All of this got me thinking – if we’re going to craft a new vocabulary to describe what we do and care about, then the term “sector-confused” isn’t quite right.  It implies a certain… well, confusion… that doesn’t give credit to the deliberate identities crafted by the new generation of leaders such as my friend.  It’s not that those who cross over the public and private, for-profit and non-profit sectors are unsure of where to land among the options… it’s that where we’re going, the demarcations no longer matter so much.

After 20 years in the working world, my friend shows no signs of committing to business, nonprofit or public life any time soon.  Call it confusion if you like, but I’m pretty sure my friend knows exactly what he’s doing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    March 30, 2009 5:44 pm

    Your post exemplifies the career desires of the generation who “wants it all”- because we do. We want the two kids, the rewarding job that impacts the world yet earns enough money enough to keep ourselves comfortable, the rich social life, the intellectual stimulation…well said!

  2. Barbara Saunders permalink
    June 11, 2010 8:08 pm

    In addition the compensation and meaning issues, there are two more dimensions:
    1 – skills and knowledge are sector agnostic
    2 – problems to be solved are sector agnostic

    Sticking with the career ladder within a sector entails placing less weight on those factors and more weight on the particular social milieu of the sector or industry.

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