This piece is part of our Manifesto about 7 areas of our personal life: (1) Education (2) Physical Health, (3) Mental Health & Mindset, (4) Relations, (5) Work & Career, (6) Personal Finance, and (7) Personal Development (coming up). In the midst of this COVID-19 global pandemic, where our society and our lives have come to a halt, we were inspired to write this Manifesto. For every area of our personal lives, we will challenge the way we viewed it “back then” and articulate a vision on “how we should go about it in the future”. Our Manifesto is meant to open up discussions. We don’t intend to stereotype anyone or anything, but just want to give a generic perception of our lives and society as a whole and the systems behind it.
Work as an instrument for respect & security
Being successful meant having a well-paying job or owning a large business. For a lot of us, our job title part had become part of our identity - that was our worth. Work and careers were mainly there to get respect, cover for our lifestyle, and provide security. But hey, what kind of security was that anyway?
Most of us enjoyed having colleagues and social things, but in the end, work was mainly there to make money and pay for our lives. Why wasn’t work seen as an instrument for a lifetime of personal growth and for contributing to a higher goal, while at the same time helping us grow financially?
Remote work was not preferred
Oh, and remote working was mostly not accepted or “preferred” until 2020. If you could be at the office, you were to be there. Many needed special permission to work from home a day or two. But now that a virus has caught us off guard, it was suddenly possible, and companies – even traditional ones – rearranged their IT in a matter of days.
Let’s not forget bureaucracy. That thing big corporations and governments hid behind as an excuse not to be human and adaptive. The excruciatingly slow processes drove not only customers and citizens crazy, but also the people working for these very institutions. We needed a crisis to prove that fast action had always been possible after all.
Hierarchy vs. merit
And let’s talk about hierarchy. Young talent was very much asked for but oftentimes didn’t get the mandate to voice opinions or make decisions. Why? Was it because older generations felt that they couldn’t be passed due to their ‘hard work on building credit in the workplace’? In the “old” world, it was more about track record within the business and less about the merit of an idea or opinion.
No overarching career plan
And let’s face it - we often didn’t stay with an employer for more than a handful of years. The days of lifetime careers were long gone. By identifying with our (temporary) role and our career perspective within just that organization, we neglected our general self-development. There was no such thing as an Overarching Career Plan that guided us from starting to work until our retirement.
Settling for less
In our careers, many of us had become very dependent on our employers. We often disliked our salary, job responsibilities, or workplace, but we didn’t dare to speak up or find the time to search for alternatives. Honestly, we preferred to sit it out for that long-term contract, as that would automatically mean we could buy our first house or “be safe”. And then, by getting the contract and a raise, we were locked in. Forgotten that we wanted an alternative career. We settled for less.
Accepting old dogmas
We accepted outdated, uninspiring offices as our second living environment. We swallowed an old-fashioned hierarchy, otherworldly boss and we counted the workday until 8 hours precisely, because that is what mattered more than our valuable output.
We accepted the daily commutes of at least one hour of our precious free time. We lost our energy in hour-long meetings – often asking ourselves “why am I even part of this one?”. What we liked about the good old office were the casual chats at the coffee machine, but on the flip side, we accepted that our best focus work needed to be done in the noisy open workspace, full of distractions.
Where was the energy that we once had when we started in this role? And, where was the feeling of fulfillment? When we peeled the onion, our job came down to “sparring, joining meetings and calling”, confronting us with the thought: “Is this what they call a ‘bull-shit job’?”.
There was that widespread and persistent belief that going for this so-called “successful career” meant that you had to work your tail off and would fall short in other areas of life such as family, relationships, and health & fitness.
The age delusion
And our perspective on age, man, we got that all wrong. Young adults that are entering the job market now have an average life expectancy of 100 years and their number of “healthy years” will increase as well. So isn’t it time we change our connotation with ages like 30, 50, and 70? Why did we expect people to have it “all figured out” at 30 when we and our society will change so much in the upcoming decades? How on earth did employers regard a 50-something as too old when the free world is currently being led by a 70-something?
What if we used this period of reflection to redesign "work" and "career"?
The real purpose of our careers
What if the purpose of work and our career was not solely making money or becoming richer? Or being respected by others? What if our career was there to let us realize our full potential in our lifetime, make us happier and more fulfilled, contribute to others through our unique talents, and – as a byproduct – to grow financially? Would we regard professional setbacks and hardship differently when we see them as gifts that strengthen our abilities so we can be more, and give more?
Work that meets higher needs
Many of us live in developed countries, where living costs a lot of money. But in this day and age, money is earned by more than working alone. Also by investing in assets – from returns on stocks, bonds, and real estate – and (temporarily) by receiving social security. Working just for the sake of making money – after basic needs are met – is an outdated idea. It can have so many motives and reasons. We spend the majority of our lifetimes on work so – almost representing life itself – we believe working should also meet “higher” needs such as connection, happiness, self-realization, and contribution.
The main career question
The question for all of us should be: which combination of strengths and passions provide optimal happiness, growth, financial returns, positive impact, and fulfillment? And this self-inquiry should be followed by a personal career vision, acting on that vision, regular measuring moments, and course corrections.
A lifelong process of growth
This entire process will (often) transcend employment at a single organization. Your personal career vision overarches employers and business ventures. A traditional personal development plan from your employer is just a chapter of your career book. Everybody should take ownership of their own Talent Development, as HR professionals will ultimately have their organization’s interests in mind.
Employee, entrepreneurs or self-employed
Self-reflection will also reveal if your personality leans more toward employment or entrepreneurship. Some people are more specifically gifted, work better in groups, and thrive with more context and order (employees), while others are more generally gifted and can create context and order from nothing (entrepreneurs). Note: self-employed individuals will probably be somewhere in between.
Several career ladders
There is an overarching career ladder for both employees and entrepreneurs. And sometimes people will want to switch “ladders” – starting multiple careers from scratch. Employees can excel more and more over the years and become a force for change in a variety of organizations – as leaders, specialists, and experts. Entrepreneurs can build several businesses in their lifetime and grow from being self-employed to an active founder with a team, a shareholder in the background, and an investor in a range of companies.
Gen Z's long career span
The majority of the newest generation in the workplace (Gen Z) will be almost 100 years old in the year 2100. How many organizations will they have transformed and initiated in this period from now? And how can work – such a substantial chunk of their healthy years – help them to fulfill all their life needs? Will they “sit out” the coming 40 years to retire and have leisure time, and then “be retired” for the last 40 years of their lives?
Combining happiness, wealth, growth, and fulfillment
Let's circle back on how our careers can give us not only happiness, growth, and wealth, but also fulfillment. Being in our ‘element’ at work and growing as a person can make us so much happier. Then we are doing what we are born to do, and we get better and better. Naturally, this will result in making more money. Yet, when we utilize our careers to solve problems that we feel deeply compelled to, we open the door to something even more meaningful and powerful: fulfillment. In the past, most of us would seek this fulfillment outside work hours, by volunteering or helping someone in our community.
The concept of 'professional contribution'
'Professional contribution' is when you use your professional skillset for a cause that you deeply resonate with. It doesn’t have to be a social enterprise - it just needs to benefit for good. Think of anything from using your design skills for a non-profit organization, using your presenting skills to advocate for an underrepresented group in society, solving world challenges with your coding skills, to starting a business that focuses on people, planet & profit or fills a gap that a major part of society can benefit from.
Professional contribution can be more powerful and impactful than part-time or one-time volunteering. Doing it full time allows you to make a much bigger dent in solving a higher goal because you can devote your 'whole life' to it and by getting paid for it, you can keep doing it.
More on the combination of self-actualization and contribution soon! It's the essence of Growtribute.
Check out our (video) podcast on creating a Meaningful and Fulfilling Career, including personal experiences here.
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Growtribute is an international community and platform for personal growth and professional contribution. Behind it are Lennart van der Ziel and Rachelle Leerling. They are entrepreneurs, speakers, and coaches.