Re-thinking your career expectations

Line-up of people in different occupationsHow old were you when someone first asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ Six? Seven? Maybe you wanted to be a teacher, or a doctor… or a train driver, or an astronaut. Chances are you’ve revised your plans a bit since then – you’ve likely changed a bit since primary school! – but you’re probably still thinking about careers in much the same way.

Have you ever lost sleep over choosing the right career? If you’ve gone round in circles, trying to work out your path and stressing that you’ll get it wrong, you’re definitely not alone; As a career coach, I see that kind of anxiety every day. If you’re still trying to choose that one thing you want to be when you grow up, it’s time for a radical re-think! These days, the chances that you’ll travel through life in any one job are increasingly unlikely; our career expectations are simply out of date.

Some information to put this in perspective. The working population is currently made up of Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), Gen X-ers (1965 – 1980) and Gen Y’s (1981 – 2000). Your average Baby Boomer grew up expecting to choose one career and stick with it; typically they left school, picked an occupation, got the job and then climbed the ladder within one, or maybe two companies. That was fine when there was a stable economy, plenty of jobs and a degree practically guaranteed you a job.

Fast-forward, and the world has changed. Technology has changed how we work, markets are global and economies are increasingly unstable. In this environment, a typical Gen X-er is predicted to have around 3 different careers and work for over 12 companies. If you’re Gen Y, it’s more likely to be 5 careers and over 20 employers – and you’re increasingly likely to work for yourself or sub-contract. For the Millennials now in school, all bets are off… but things are going to keep changing.

So what does this mean for you? Well, firstly it helps to think of your career as a journey, and not a one-off decision. If you’re stressing about your next step, remember that wherever you start, you’ll almost certainly change your plans along the way. You may well end up working with technologies, in jobs and fields that don’t even exist yet! It’s simply not possible to map out a long-term career when the landscape around you is constantly changing.

Instead, find a broad direction that engages you and plays to your strengths – get professional help if you need to – and start building a practical tool-kit of skills, knowledge and experience. Develop your networks, keep your skills up to date and future-ready; be prepared to adapt and reinvent yourself. The future is looking far more flexible when it comes to careers, and that’s great news for everyone who’s still discovering who and what they want to be. Bon voyage!

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