As discussed in a previous post, our lives are ephemeral, temporary, and all-together too short. It's with that ray of sunshine as our backdrop that I will cover a few things to think about when it comes to our careers:
- Why do we work so hard for so long, only to look back and realize we've not made any progress in our careers?
- Do our jobs define us? Are we more than our careers?
- Does your company really care about you?
- When is it the right time to leave your job?
- A way to visualize your career that will have you never wanting to waste a single day again...
We have an always-shrinking supply of time to give to our careers. You have less time to build your dream career than when you started reading this sentence. Even less now. But keep reading anyway. It'll be worth it...
Always rowing, never getting to shore.
In our day-to-day, we can easily get lost in the torrential downpour of distractions, tasks, and seemingly important things in the "right now" that we often lose sight of the horizon...our career goals. We often picture ourselves becoming successful at whatever path we choose (after all, who would set out on a path hoping to be a failure?). Yet, we don't act with intentionality when it comes to chart a course toward that destination.
We say, "someday, I'm going to get there." From this misguided certainty, we work ourselves to the bone "getting there," only to realize that the destination never seems to get any closer. We're the captain in a rowboat of our choosing, furiously rowing every single day, assuming we'll hit the shoreline soon.
We expend massive amounts of energy in our careers. Heads down at best, up our asses at worst, never looking up to see if we're on course for landfall or simply paddling in circles. We believe we're making progress, but we're no closer to the coast. With our gaze lowered, we're foolishly making tiny circles in the vast sea...
If you're a human being reading this, you are terrible at long-term planning. We are not too far removed from our ancestors who survived one day, one night, and one hunt at a time. There was no concept of "the future", only "now."
Those instincts still lie within us, and the constant connected barrage of notifications on our phones, emails, and "urgent" tasks hijack this part of our brain back into the mode where we are surviving one day at a time.
We're not living long-term, we're essentially subsistence farming in a knowledge-work economy. It's because of this "feature", we can often look up after a decade and wonder where in the hell the time went.
Remember, that clock in your life is ticking. Always ticking.
Like it or not, your career will likely take up a pretty significant chunk of that ticking timer...tick...tick...tick...
You are your career.
I can guarantee that nearly every interaction you've had with someone you meet eventually gets to the "so, what do you do?" question. It's almost hard-wired into our culture.
When you realize that by some estimates, the average person will spend 90,000 hours or 1/3 of their life at work you can see why this question becomes almost a given for every first-time interaction. In our society and many across the world, where we work and what we do matters.
Realize this. You spend a third of your life living, a third sleeping, and a third working. Your career is a fundamental part of who you are, and it impacts the other two-thirds in profound ways.
Ever had a bad day at work? Your personal life suffers. The project's behind, and you need to put in some extra effort. Your sleep suffers.
Like a bridge losing one-third of its support structure, when any of these three pillars in your life are under assault by the blitzkrieg of modern life, the other pillars will inevitably begin to buckle under the additional pressure.
Despite all the feel-good things we hear about "you not being your job," you are, at least, one-third your job, according to the data. If we accept that our vocation is such a large chunk of our lives, why do we often allow ourselves to remain miserable in a place that negatively impacts the other giant chunks of our lives?
Gallup released a report recently, finding that 60% of people reported being emotionally detached at work and 19% as being miserable. Only 33% reported feeling engaged.
Why do so many people stay somewhere if we're miserable, unfulfilled, and unengaged? According to Inc., there are 9 primary reasons:
- Risk terrifies them.
- Learning something new is hard.
- The golden handcuffs of pay and benefits make life pretty cushy.
- Some people love to just complain and their job gives them plenty of fodder.
- They don't want to disappoint their parents.
- They've lived beyond their means and are bound by their job. (Boats are fun.)
- They like their title.
- They fear letting their dependents (kids, mortgage, etc.) down.
- They fear being wrong. They fear rejection.
Do any of these hit home for you? You're not alone.
The average human will generally suffer daily through something they know, rather than stepping out into the unknown to see what they're made of.
Career moves are scary. Period. Willingly subjecting yourself to the firing squad that is the interview process amplifies the never-ending feeling of impostor syndrome that's lodged itself into the depths of your soul.
Despite this dreadful realization, most people will, on average, make a job or career leap about 10 times before the age of 42. Additionally, most employers today only expect you to stay in a job for about 3 years.
Like it or not, we will move on. We must move on.
Within us all lies the courage to strike out and take risks. Do not let fear snuff out the fire that we're all intended to have in our souls. Ask yourself, is now the time? If not now, then when?
"If it wasn't scary, everyone would do it. If it was easy, there wouldn't be any growth in it."
— Ryan Holiday, Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave
It is said that "whatever you're not changing, you're choosing." Unfortunately, life and circumstance will sometimes do the choosing for you...
Sometimes the Enemy Gets a Vote: Layoffs, Downsizing, and RIFs.
40% of Americans have been laid off or terminated from a job at least once, with 48% living in fear of it happening to them.
Today, you have nearly a coin flip of a chance that you will be laid off, downsized, or whatever word the company uses to communicate the shitty news. As economic cycles go up and down, people are affected, jobs are lost, and entire organizations may cease to exist.
It hasn't always been this way, however. We can look back to our parent's or grandparent's generations to hear stories of pensions, lifelong service, and even fancy gold watches. In those halcyon days of stability, you gave your all to the company, and the company fought like hell to keep you as a valued employee for life.
Sadly, that time is no more.
The last quarter of the 20th century gave rise to a change in corporate America, where it was now popular to utilize layoffs as a tool for a company to stay lean and competitive. General Electric chairman Jack Welch became a defacto evangelist for this way of thinking, with corporate executives everywhere following Neutron Jack in reducing the size of their workforce, many times covering for the failures in their own leadership.
Ok, we get it. Layoffs suck, they're real, and they could happen to anyone. How's this supposed to help?
The Latin phrase
memento mori means "remember that you [have to] die." Dark, morbid, but yet...you can use it as a
call to action to live your life to the fullest while you are here, as we all meet the same fate.
Perhaps, we can light a fire under our career journey with a slightly less catchy saying:
memento potes perdere tuum..."Remember you can lose your job"...
You inherently know that you can't stop death, you can only hold it at bay with good habits and a good life. In parallel, you may not be able to stop yourself from losing your job, but you can similarly fortify yourself should that happen...
You Have the Power: Spend Those Career Tokens
To recap what we've covered so far, we can be fairly certain of a few conclusions:
- A lot of people exist in varying levels of unhappiness or unfulfillment with their work life.
- Modern humans spend a lot of their life at work.
- Your company may care about you now, but when it comes to the bottom line, you may be on the chopping block.
- Leaping into the unknown for something new can be daunting.
Here's the good news. You are a sentient, autonomous being who has the power to find purpose, a modicum of fulfillment and set yourself up for a life of relative stability. The bad news is that it may be difficult, but not impossible...
You may need to quit your job.
Have you ever used one of those coin-operated viewfinders at various landmarks? They are incredible at giving you a view of a point of interest and maybe a few things on the edges. You would never assume, despite the great views of something incredible, that this viewfinder is showing you...everything. There's more unimaginable stuff out there, and you know it.
If you want new views, you have to pick up and move. Experience an entirely new set of people, processes, technology, pressure, and even new types of craziness. After all, sometimes learning what you don't want is just as important as the inverse.
Quitting may be the answer to making yourself better in your vocation, more marketable and less disposable. Moving to something new and exciting/frightening will give you a new landscape to look at, a new set of perspectives, and most importantly, a new set of experiences.
"Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience. You need experience to gain wisdom."
— Albert Einstein
Keep thinking about that viewfinder. Would you spend an entire vacation standing in that one spot, feeding that machine with quarters just to keep looking at the same scene?
Hell no you wouldn't.
Why do we then find it acceptable to sit at the same desk at the same company doing the same thing for YEARS of our careers? Do you want 1 year of experience 20 times or 20 years of actual experience?
Now, hold out your hand. Imagine 15 gold tokens, glistening in the midday sun. Those are yours. I will take you to any viewfinder in the world, but you need to choose where to go. You probably want to go to Paris, New York, and the mountains of Colorado. We can do that, or, we can keep pumping coins into this viewfinder you found amidst some once-great urban decay. It's your choice.
This may seem like some outlandish thought experiment. Those 15 tokens are quite real. They are your career tokens. And you must decide to spend one roughly every 3 years.
Assume that you work from age 22 until age 67. That gives you a good, solid, 45-year career. That's 15 tokens. Those tokens represent every bit of potential, opportunity, and experience that awaits your career if you're willing. Those 15 tokens can act as a strong forcing function to get you to look up, look around, and decide whether or not you want to see something new.
I'm not saying quit your job every three years. I'm saying that if you're miserable and stagnant and there's no change in sight, be brave. Move along. By not changing, you're choosing.
It's absolutely acceptable to spend a few tokens at the same viewfinder a few times. Maybe you love the scenery because it's full of complex intricacies that take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. Maybe your company is treating you well, you've got a solid team, and you are encouraged to find ways to grow within the company. Awesome. Stay for a little bit.
I'm thankful for every company I've ever worked for, and every job I've had. From running groceries to cars to running entire engineering teams, the fruits of those labors have a bountiful harvest of knowledge and experience. We simply outgrow things sometimes, and that's entirely ok.
But, as I look back on my career, the most beautiful, wonderful, life-giving experiences have come each and every time I was able to stare uncertainty in the face and say "let's go." The trajectory of my career, my entire life, has been positively blessed by all the times I've decided to make that crazy move.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Thanks for reading, now go take count of the tokens you have remaining...