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Traditional career management has taught generations of Americans that the path to success begins with a college degree, choosing a career and then settling down with a company, often for a lifetime. This delightful fairy tale ends with a comfortable retirement, in a home you own and a cabin at the lake.
There has never been a Plan B because it has never been thought necessary, despite thirty plus years of accelerating technological disruption and regularly recurring economic downturns that together cause endemic job loss and the vaporization of entire professions.
Traditional career thought replies with, “Change happens” and “Change is for the best,” and, “Bless your heart, we’re getting rid of these stinky old bad jobs and replacing them with bright shiny new ones. All you have to do is: choose one of the new careers, get into debt for another education and settle down to it for the rest of your life.” Or we might add, until that new profession likewise evaporates.
Nowadays hardly anyone makes it through to retirement in the career he or she began; that was for earlier generations. The uncertain times in which we live demand re-thinking our approaches to successful career management; and if ever there was a need for the integration of a Plan B into the mix, it is right now.
Today’s lack of employment security means that if a new approach isn’t introduced and adopted, professional life for most people is going to sputter along from job to job with diminished horizons, and from career to career, with all the financial dislocation and soul-wrenching self-doubt that this causes. Where’s the American Dream in this picture?
The facts are that we typically start to work in our teens and theoretically retire at sixty-five, which is a half century work life that will average job change about every four years including at least three career changes. This continues until age and wage discrimination pushes workers in their forties and fifties out of the professional workforce way before they are financially able to make the transition into a comfortable retirement. The result is that the culmination of a lifetime’s experience is invariably squandered on jobs far beneath that person’s credentials and capabilities.
This causes all working people to experience intense career uncertainties that can manifest with significant emotional and physical problems. The new realities increasingly deny a person’s ability to achieve stability, success, and a sense of fulfillment in life; and these are three building blocks that are foundational to responsible long-term career planning. In response, I, with an increasing number of colleagues, am convinced of the need to embrace a new approach to lifetime career management that focuses on enlightened self-interest.
When an employer dispenses with your services, it’s nothing personal, the organization is doing what it must do to survive and maximize profit. You and I, and all our clients need to adopt the same business-like approach to the management of our careers: It’s nothing personal, we just have to put our personal survival and success above mindless loyalty to employers that are intent on using us up and spitting us out, just as soon as they profitably can.
There is an urgent need for everyone to begin guiding the path of their lives with the same forethought, objectivity, and self-interest with which a corporation plans and executes it’s own strategies.
It is time to start thinking as MeInc. You are MeInc, I am MeInc, we are all MeInc in this uncertain world, but what is a MeInc, and how does it operate?
MeInc is the sum of the products and services (think skills and experience) you’ve accumulated over the course of your working life that together comprise a financial entity that must survive and prosper over the balance of your work life. To do this, MeInc mirrors the approaches of a modern corporation, and will have its own ongoing initiatives for:
Research and Development: To identify and develop products with the maximum marketplace appeal. These products and services will adapt and constantly evolve to fulfill the changing needs of the customer base.
You look today’s reality and the future square in the face and plan MeInc’s strategies accordingly. This includes the timing of strategic career moves that take you to new employers; plans for monitoring the health of your profession and for career change — all calibrated to your timetable.
Working with R & D and Marketing, your Strategic Planning initiatives constantly monitor professional opportunity and investigate strategies for the pursuit of new revenue streams— such as alternate entrepreneurial endeavors that could minimize recurrent disruption of MeInc’s cash flow and maximize the odds of reward for taking responsibility for one’s future.
The application of Branding and Public Relations initiatives that establish credibility for the professional services MeInc delivers. This work strives to ensure that your credibility becomes visible to an ever-widening circle, first within your current department and expanding outwards through the company, your local professional community, and beyond, as your strategic career plans dictate.
Whatever MeInc’s ultimate marketing goals, it begins with the definition and capture of what your professional identity is going to be. Invariably this is achieved with a resume, because it forces the self-analysis necessary and evaluation of professional context needed to establish a viable brand and then echo that brand identity through professional association membership, LinkedIn and other social media platforms – and all you say and do in your work every day.
With this initiative you constantly develop new strategies to sell your products and services, including staying current with state-of-art sales tools like both passive and active network-integrated job search tactics, polishing your ability to turn job interviews into job offers, and understanding and employing the right tactics to make a job secure and win promotions etc.
MeInc invests wisely in initiatives that will deliver a Return On Investment that focus on contributing to a successful future, rather than frittering away income on the perceived needs for instant gratification drummed into us by 24/7 media. The results of which keep us in debt and enslaved to disingenuous employers.
Be Smart, Choose a Practical “Core Career”
In this context, considerations for a career, or core career as we will come to see it, must be entirely pragmatic in order to establish a solid foundation on which to base long-term career initiatives.
With all its lack of security, a core career is still the most dependable route to middle-class success. Yet we are out of touch if we offer career advice that tells a client to, “Find your passion, find your bliss, find something you love, and stick with it until you achieve success.” This was always feel-good advice, never practical. Such hopes are indeed achievable, but they are not, and have never been, appropriate primary advice offered as the main moneymaking vehicle for someone’s life.
Needs and desires—the things that motivate us—evolve as we age, and we typically experience significant changes in these wants every 7–10 years. Daniel Levinson’s perennially pertinent work (1) on life’s cyclical changes tells us that whatever rings bells for us today will be replaced a few years down the road with needs and wants more relevant to the changing stages of our life.
In such a context, career choice shouldn’t be about anything remotely like “finding your bliss.” Instead, a more practical approach that responds to the realities of the new world of work is needed, one that looks at core career as a foundation for inevitable change driven by employers’ or our own changing needs.
The work we do dictates the money we earn, and this dictates the quality of life we experience and the things we are able to do when we are not working, which has an impact on every aspect of our lives, for the rest of our lives. As such it is common sense that core career choice should be pragmatic especially when a core career needn’t be the sum of your life, but part of an approach to career management that encourages security and success, while integrating the pursuit of your passions into career planning in a manner far more likely to bear fruit.
While core career choice should certainly take into account personal preferences, guidance on choice should not be made to encourage the outmoded belief that this career will lead to lifelong security, or that it will satisfy all our needs for today and always. So while smart core career choice takes into account skills, aptitudes, and preferences; having come up with a short list of potential career paths based on these considerations, we should also consider:
- The projected health of that profession and / or industry sector
- The projected growth and stability of the target job(s)
- The relative flexibility offered by the combination of degree/job/ profession/industry that allows someone to change jobs, professions and careers in the future.
A profession with good growth projections in a healthy industry sector will deliver more job opportunities and better professional growth in good times and bad. With any profession/industry sector(s) under evaluation, we should consider the health of target jobs in terms of real numbers and projected growth.
For example, the absolute number of people holding the job title on which growth projections are based is important: A projected 20 percent growth rate on a job that already has 3.5 million people holding that title suggests greater security, in both good times and bad, than a job with a projected 20 percent growth rate based on 35,000 job holders.
Taking full advantage of counseling, career choice and aptitude testing, it becomes possible to make considered career choices based on more realistic evaluations of opportunity for job security, success and fulfillment. This makes sense to clients when they understand that this approach will deliver greater odds for achieving their dreams and actually gives them more control and flexibility over how they live their lives and even offer realistic tactics for ultimately living their bliss.
A Successful Career Is Not a Sprint
New paths down which we can pursue success, stability and personal fulfillment represent long-term commitments that probably won’t spring into bloom this coming spring. They will take time, sometimes years, before they bear fruit, so building networks in the fields of our entrepreneurial endeavors gives us support groups that speed our learning curves, while delivering ongoing exposure to how brands in these areas are developed and blossom. Because building a better mousetrap is only one part of the equation, you have to brand and sell it too.
A successful career is a marathon, not a sprint; so whatever the goals, the sooner we start toward them the better. These are all invariably long journeys with the hardest step being the first. Every day we wake up on the right side of the grass we, and our clients, have the opportunity to work towards living life on our own terms by using the tools we already have in our hands to bring our dreams to life and as a result, living a fuller, more secure and successful life.