Society tells us a lot of things about what we should want in a career and what the possibilities are—which is weird because I’m pretty sure society knows very little about any of this. When it comes to careers, society is like your great uncle who traps you at holidays and goes on a 15-minute mostly incoherent unsolicited advice monologue, and you tune out almost the whole time because it’s super clear he has very little idea what he’s talking about and that everything he says is like 45 years outdated. Society is like that great uncle, and conventional wisdom is like his rant. Except in this case, instead of tuning it out, we pay rapt attention to every word, and then we make major career decisions based on what he says. Kind of a weird thing for us to do.– Tim Urban, Wait but Why? Go read this post.
As I mentioned in a prior post, it is unlikely that we are going to find stability outside ourselves.
That social contract left the building long ago.
As a result, it becomes more important to individually determine what we want our lives to look like.
I say lives, because the work and workplaces we choose have a dramatic impact on our lives.
I know this from my own experience.
Being a stagehand is a lifestyle decision – one filled with long hours, heavy lifting, exposure to the performing arts, and (in the right circumstances) intense teamwork.
Being a medical professional is a lifestyle decision – one filled with long hours, cortisol and adrenaline spikes, exposure to the best and worst of human nature, and (in the right circumstances) intense teamwork.
Being an IT professional is a lifestyle decision – one filled with long hours, intense periods of focus in front of screens, many meetings, exposure to multiple new technologies (in the right circumstances), and intense teamwork (often when things go deeply south).
The environments, types of people, topics of study, and the activities of work are wildly variable. The constants are long hours (whether we want them or not) and the need for teamwork.
Why are you doing what you are doing?
This is not an ask for you to “find your purpose” in an environment that is truly purposeless.
This is about you.
Why did you choose (or fall into) your profession? What about it appealed to you when you started? Why do you keep doing it?
“Because I’ve done this for 20 years and this is what I get hired for when I look for work” is a perfectly appropriate answer. At least be honest with yourself.
The next question is a bit stickier – “Will this matter in the end?”
Are you working in service to an idea or a problem you wish to solve or a desire to make a positive difference in the world?
Is what you are doing leading that direction – even if it might not feel like it right now?
It’s OK if the answer is – “Probably not, but it pays the bills.”
Many of us have been trained to focus there. Get a “good job,” climb the ladder, pay the bills, retire and do nothing once you hit 65.
I believe that our current environment is a call for each of us to find what Laura Gassner Otting calls “consonance.”
Consonance is when what you do matches who you are (or who you want to be).Laura Gassner Otting, Harvard Business Review, “Are You Pursuing Your Vision of Career Success, or Someone Else’s”
We are being invited to make conscious decisions about our work, our careers, our skills, and how we serve our world.
We are being invited to explore what calls us and whether our activities move us towards or away from that calling.
We are being invited to ask our work connects with the larger world. How we contribute to our communities and the groups of which we are a part.
These aren’t easy questions, and they are likely to change over time and circumstance.
Our careers are no longer tidy paths towards mastery and a gold watch.
We have an invitation to something much richer.
HBR: Are You Pursuing Your Vision of Career Success, or Someone Else’s? (freemium article) – “Happiness recruits, but consonance retains.”
Picking a Career (article) – Tim Urban’s funny and insightful reflections on career paths and life.
What Color Is Your Parachute 2020 (Amazon affiliate link) – A classic in personal career development, for good reason.