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The Rise Of Multi-Hyphen Celebrities

Last week Reese Witherspoon announced that her media empire, Hello Sunshine, is partnering with Amazon-owned Audible to produce a raft of original audio content. Meanwhile, Ashton Kutcher donated $4 million to Ellen DeGeneres’ Wildlife Fund through crypto tech company Ripple, in which he is an investor. Do you remember when these two made romcoms?

My favourite thing about celebrity-watching is not the microcosm of the fame itself, but more what individuals choose to do with it, or what their side projects are. It makes me realise just how much we love to pigeonhole people under one job title. It’s how we categorise people in our brains, A-listers included. It’s tempting to freeze celebrities in time as being That Person In Our Favourite Noughties Film, but so many stars are now embracing the growing trend of being a multi-hyphenate in the workplace.

The idea of having ‘fingers in pies’ has often been stigmatised as an indecisive or unreliable trait, but in a world that rewards individualism (whether we like it or not) making side-stepping strategic career decisions can pay off. Under a personal brand, the sky’s the limit. For example, Justin Timberlake loves a hyphen: the singer-songwriter-producer-actor also turned tech investor when he bought a controlling stake in MySpace in 2011. Drew Barrymore’s 40-year (yes, really) acting career has led her to writing books and launching her own cosmetics line, Flower. Rihanna’s also got her fingers into the beauty business, having conquered the world with Fenty, and recently branched out into lingerie. Fearne Cotton became known as a DJ and presenter, but has launched fashion lines (with Very and Boots), written food and wellness books and, more recently, been hosting her Happy Place podcast. Our household names have so much more going on, they rarely remain known for just one thing.

One of the first multi-hyphenate women I saw on screen was Lena Dunham, at work on_Girls_. I remember on-set photos of her directing her cast (including herself, as character Hannah Horvath) via a monitor, acting out the script that she had written. Seeing a writer-director-actress doing her thing made me realise it’s possible to be multiple things at once.

Our Hollywood stars now look nothing like they used to. Kate Hudson is the co-founder of gym brand Fabletics, Jessica Alba is one of America’s richest entrepreneurs under 40 thanks to her business The Honest Company, which sells non-toxic household goods, and Gwyneth Paltrow has created a phenomenon with Goop, which started as a newsletter and is now a book imprint, website and product line.

Millennial stars wouldn’t even consider being tied to just one job. Donald Glover is the ultimate multi-hyphenate. Already a star for his comedy work on_Saturday Night Live_and for the critically acclaimed_Atlanta_– which he created, wrote, produced and stars in – he is also known by his musical alter-ego Childish Gambino (the video for his current single This Is America has already racked up 180 million views on YouTube). Meanwhile, last yearJanelle Monáe was in not one but two Oscar-nominated films (Hidden Figures and Moonlight), and next year we can safely assumed she’ll be ruling the Grammys, after the success of her album, Dirty Computer.

Like many multi-hyphenates, I’m sure they would struggle to answer the dinner party question, ‘What do you do?’ very succinctly, but that is the excitement of a varied career. Glover is described on Wikipedia as ‘actor, comedian, writer, director, record producer, singer, songwriter, rapper and DJ’. The list will only get longer.

It’s easy to think that stars don’t reflect real life, but more young people are becoming multi-hyphenates at work too, and the stigma of being a ‘Jack of all trades’ is finally lifting. The new multi-hyphenate career goes hand in handwith a need for more flexible working options. New research from online jobs site Timewise reveals that 60% of UK workers want access to a range of flexible working options. Meanwhile, Deloitte found that nearly half of Millennials plan to leave their job within two years. Having a job for life is a thing of the past.

In a recent interview with Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig, she spoke about how people love to ask her: ‘If you had to choose out of writing, acting or directing, which one would you pick?’ to which she replies, ‘Why must I choose?’ We still have it ingrained somehow that someone must be only good at one thing to do it well. Greta described the arc of any career as ‘everybody’s own magical mystery tour’, the point being, we get to decide how our topsy-turvy-sideways portfolio career looks. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense on the outside or to your parents, it’s what works for you.

When you meet someone new, instead of asking what they do, nodding at their job title and moving on, why not dig a little deeper to ask what a person’s side-project is? It’s more common than we think. We are all far more interesting and complex than the most obvious label would initially make it seem.

Emma Gannon’s new book, The Multi-Hyphen Method: Work Less, Create More, And Design A Career That Works For You is out 31 May (£18.99, Hodder & Stoughton)