Work is changing – can your mindset keep up
Work is changing – can your mindset keep up?
Get up, commute, arrive at work, make a coffee, settle in for the next eight hours at your desk, turn your computer off, commute, go to the gym, get home, make dinner, watch TV, and go to bed. Do it all over again the next day, and the next and the next…does the term Groundhog Day spring to mind perhaps?
I would hope that this isn’t the reality you face every morning when you wake up. I’ve always believed that our careers are one of the most important and influential parts of our lives, and thus should be a huge source of variety and defining experiences, with each day being different from the last. And, sure, we all have bad days and come across challenging times, but more often than not, it’s the good times that motivate and shape us as the years go by and we move through life.
Living longer means working longer
I recently read a book by London Business School Professors, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott called ‘The 100 Year Life’. In the book, the authors explain that because we’re all living longer, most of us will simply have no choice but to work for longer - many of us well into our 70s or even 80s.
The potential lifespan of our careers has never been longer, and thus the onus on our work (in its current form) to provide us with the same level of contentment and happiness as it has for previous generations, is becoming more and more pressurised. Therefore, it feels natural and inevitable that we will increasingly start to seek out more and more variety and flexibility in our careers - whether that be by switching jobs more regularly, changing industries, taking time out to travel the world, have a family or return to university (or all of the above).
How can we evolve the way we think about our careers?
But for many who have been active participants in the world of work for many years, it can feel almost impossible to fathom how to realistically stop, and a) inject the variety and change needed to ensure they remain fulfilled and happy in years to come, and b) feel that their actions and choices are progressing and building their careers, and aren’t just causing them to stagnate in our current roles.
So, in this blog, I wanted to share with you some of the ways I think we all need to start thinking differently about our careers and where they’re headed, so that we are better able to ensure our unique career journeys help us feel fulfilled and content in that we’re making the most of everything our longer lives have to offer.
It’s ok to change direction
From an early age, we’ve almost been pre-conditioned to think in a traditional way about our careers. We’ve been channelled through an education system which is geared to take us in one direction, and the older we get, the more and more we may feel forced to specialise in one field of work. This is a point that Helen Whiles (MPhil, MIfL) quite rightly makes in her Tedx Talk – she says “…the education system forces us through a funnel which perhaps isn’t that useful, especially in today’s economic climate…”
But, if you think about it, realistically, there probably isn’t one single job that will suit and fulfil you for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. So, we need to shake off this mentality that our careers must be linear and follow a set trajectory, otherwise we risk pigeon-holing ourselves in roles that ultimately won’t make us happy in the years to come.
Instead, it’s time to start thinking of your career as a map you need to navigate, and understand that it’s ok not to have complete clarity on where your final destination is. That might mean at times you don’t follow your GPS, you take a few steps back, break down and need road-side assistance. Or, perhaps you take a left-turn and follow that route for longer than you’d originally planned, and then hitch-hike to the next place. Whatever your journey, you need to start to feel comfortable with changing direction.
Climbing the career ladder isn’t the only road to success
Climbing the corporate ladder is of course something that many of us aspire to do from a young age. This is often seen as the one and only road to success, a road which is rarely questioned or contended, and it’s a narrative we’ve all been told since our school days.
But, as the way we approach work is forced to evolve, reaching the boardroom shouldn’t be seen as the only single end-goal or pinnacle of success. Learning a new skill, transitioning into a new industry or travelling the world can be just as rewarding, if not more.
What I’m trying to say here, is that it is the many different experiences you encounter along your own personal and unique journey that will really allow you to fulfil your potential – not just an uplift in salary, a change in job title and a company car allowance.
What’s most important is that you take every opportunity that gets your blood pumping and sparks your interest – because it’s by taking these routes that you’ll find the most fulfilment in the long-term. It’s time to reset how you define success in your own mind.
One bout of education isn’t enough
If most of us are going to be working for 60-70 years, then it’s not realistic to think that the degree we left university with over ten years ago is ever going to provide us with all the knowledge we need now and in the future.
One concentrated bout of education in our formative years is simply no longer fit for purpose. Why? Because the skills we need to succeed are changing faster than ever before – in fact, according to the World Economic Forum, 34% of the skills workers need now, will have changed as soon as 2020. What’s more, the skills we have now, will be about half as valuable in five years’ time.
As I’ve said before, to ensure we don’t reach our skills expiry date prematurely, we must all start to make lifelong learning and upskilling a habit, rather than a chore. We must make it our personal mission to continually recreate and reinvent ourselves, building our armoury of skills as we go. Because, by upskilling and reskilling on a near constant basis, we’ll become more adaptable and employable – making it far easier for us to detour and reroute to different career paths as we progress through our working lives.
Your day job doesn’t need to be your only source of income
As I alluded to earlier, living longer lives means most of us will carry a greater financial burden in the long-term. Relying solely on your 9-5 job for this is a great weight to carry, particularly in unstable economic and political times. So, it’s important to start thinking about which of your current or future skills could potentially generate another income stream for you if needed.
This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, and, in fact, many are already doing this, with almost two-fifths of UK workers, and 44 million Americans having ‘side hustles’. In his book, New York Times bestseller, Chris Guillebeau provides this interesting definition: “A side hustle is not a part-time job. A side hustle is not the gig economy. It is an asset that works for you.”
What I personally take away from this definition is that traditionally, in the world of work, we are encouraged to think big for the good of our employers, but not always for the good of our future selves. So, perhaps now is the time to put some of this energy into thinking about what your potential future ‘side hustle’ could be, and really start building your own destiny?
Your working life needs to complement your personal life
I would hope that most of us work to live, rather than the other way around. And, as we’re inevitably going to be working for longer, it’s becoming more and more important that our working lives complement our personal lives - whether that be by giving us the option to take a sabbatical, go back to university later in life, make a sideways career move, start our own ‘side hustle’, work remotely or take a break from work altogether for a period of time.
I firmly believe that our future career paths should help us lead our lives in the way we want to lead them, and in a way that makes us happy. They should help us achieve what we want to achieve, and ultimately, positively contribute to our happiness and wellbeing.
Admittedly, a big part of this is down to employers and leaders challenging their long-standing assumptions around work, by offering things like flexible working options and returnships, as well as actively supporting employees in their regeneration. But essentially, we all have the power to shape our own happiness to some degree, so grasp the opportunity with both hands.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that now is not the time to rest on our laurels, bury our heads in the sand and carry on thinking about work in the same way as we have always done. Now is the time to stop and consciously ask ourselves what we can do to ensure our careers continue to provide us with the fulfilment we need in the years and decades to come.