Once upon a time, you’d get a job and you were set. You’d stay at that company for decades. A life sentence of 8-hour workdays at the same place, with the same people, until retirement caught up with you. You had stability.
Sometimes individuals changed companies, chasing promotions and upward mobility. Even then, careers were largely linear and one dimensional. They had a single layer. While this provided security, it also got stale pretty quickly. The endless slog, the long hours, could quickly wear you out.Times have changed. Today, the career as we once knew it, is dead. There’s rarely an individual that spends their entire career at the same organization, let alone in the same domain. Instead, people jump from organization to organization, moving up the ladder, always looking out for the next opportunity.
The latest statistics show that the average amount of time an employee holds a job is 4 years, and for recent entrants to the workforce that number is even lower. In total, an employee will hold at least 10 jobs throughout their working lives.
We change jobs early and often.
There are no more lifers that stick it out at one company. The modern worker wants more than stability. They want meaning, growth, autonomy, and diversity. They are looking for progress, not comfort (myself included). A paycheck is no longer enough. This shift is driven by simple questions that often have unsatisfying answers:
Am I enjoying the work that I do?
Am I learning new things on the job?
Am I growing and improving?
Am I challenged by my work or has it become easy?
Am I doing something meaningful?
These questions creep into our careers over time and eventually consume us. They make us crave change because we are in search of meaning from our work. Our winding careers personify this search, as does the evolution of work itself.
Work used to be limited to your typical 9 to 5 job. Once you were home you were done. Today, work not only follows you home, but we can rarely escape it. This seems to only reinforce the questions we face, as we ask ourselves if it’s all worth it.
But something else comes out of this discontent. A ray of light in the darkness. We start to explore new opportunities in our own side projects, hobbies, and ventures outside of work.
We now have multiple jobs that we often pursue simultaneously. You’d think we’d want a break, but what’s happening is we are trying to fill the gaps that we often feel are missing from our day jobs. When we feel like we aren’t growing or feeling stagnant or lacking in meaning, we turn to side projects to find fulfillment.
Today, just about everyone is doing something on the side, which adds to the overall complexity of careers. Each person is wearing multiple hats and working on multiple ideas. Careers now have layers.
“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”Sheryl Sandberg
These individuals are seeking change in a changing world, they represent the future of work and careers.
As the trend of project-based work continues to grow, from the gig economy to freelancing, our careers will only become more diverse and tangled. The layers will continue to stack. Why does this matter?
We all must realize that as individuals, we must be ready to change, adapt, and learn constantly. Whether this is driven by our own careers, shifts in the economy, or progress of technology, the individual must be prepared.
A few decades ago it was simple. You grew up, you went to school, and then you got a job. But that’s no longer the case. Now sticking to a single career path is rare and only works if you choose wisely. Careers are no longer like ladders, but jungle gyms. They twist and turn, which means everyone must be ready to adjust. Ready to keep up with the new or at least be aware of it.
We must both learn and work in parallel. The future is coming and we must embrace it.