Careers Are a Thing of the Past

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe in careers anymore. I’m beginning to think that having a career is a holdover of a generation that seems to end with mine. Our workforce has become a series of jobs—short-term things we do to earn money versus the pursuit of a career which is basically a longer-term role of employment. A job is not a career. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a career as “a profession followed as a permanent occupation”. It doesn’t take much to notice that there aren’t many permanent or long-term positions anymore. I’ve seen too many people lose their jobs due to corporate restructuring and the reduction of staffs based on economically-driven decisions. I’m not blaming the businesses for this turn. As a matter of fact, looking at these workforce changes from a business perspective, it makes dollar sense.

The people I know who still hold a career is really a career in name only. Careers these days have been watered down, twisted, and shaped into something completely foreign to what people had originally intended to work at when they first entered the workforce. I find this sad.

Today’s college graduates are filling out applications for jobs that having nothing in common with the degree framed on their wall. There are many paths one can take to be employed, but the hiring and the duration of the job seems to be at the whim of whatever the economy dictates can be most beneficial to the advancement of the stakeholder’s pocket. Economics 101? Of course.

For those who do end up on a payroll, they are given responsibilities, which they have not been trained for, or are trained poorly, and are showing up each day on jobs because of the need for health insurance and rent and food money. In the meantime, being soul crushing in all other aspects of their personality.

I’ve even found myself in a work environment that turned out to be completely different from what I had started in. I’ve been working within the same industry for over 25 years but my roles have changed dramatically as prescribed by the changing focus of the companies within my industry. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have set myself up in education and training to be in a role that has pigeon-holed me and made me all but obsolete. I’ve come to fully accept that I no longer have a career, but rather it’s just a job. One that pays the bills.

People tell me that I should be happy with that. “At least you have a job.” Yes, of course, I am grateful to be employed. But it’s not the same terms of employment that I grew up thinking they would be.

Careers used to be something you aspired to. You went to school to train for it. You interned at a company to get a deeper level of hands-on experience. These things have all gone the way of Mad Men, and in its stead, there are generations of people who have had to turn in their careers for whatever jobs were available, making the best of a situation nobody prepared us for and different from what our parents told us our future would be. Whether we want to or not, current economic climate has made each one of us stand on the cusp of a new way on how to make life better for ourselves.

Our self-worth and identity are very much wrapped into our employment roles as functioning adults in society, contributing our part of paving the American Way. We will always need food and shelter and to provide for ourselves and our families and losing the idea of having a career can be a big adjustment not just for our lifestyle but how we see ourselves.

All that you knew and worked for are no longer available. The rules have changed and are as fluid as they need to be to keep the corporate shareholders afloat. In a way, this can be a blessing in disguise. It’s human nature to seek ways to pursue our happiness and maybe, as our workforce culture has changed with intensified job responsibilities and increased pressure, it is forcing each one of us to reevaluate what our goals are and what we really want our personal energies to feed.

In our discomfort of the modern-day 9-5 we are recreating a culture that though we may no longer have the careers we were promised in our youth, the jobs we hold can continue to take up a corner of our existence but also allow us a way to start thinking out of the box and find talents and desires within ourselves that either weren’t available before or we were never in a position to have to think along that path.

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he talks about finding two roads in the woods and trying to decide which road to take. Suspecting he will only have one chance at making the choice, he understands that things have a way of leading to other things and he may not find his way back, he chose the road less traveled, which had made all the difference.

How many of us have traveled the road of anticipated careers and our education? We were so sure we could always come back to walk the other road, but somehow never did because we got caught up in our career. For many of us, we may find ourselves back to that fork in the road, whether from our own hand or that of our employer’s. It can be an opportunity, a second chance to take that road less traveled, and see where it leads.

I don’t think my grandson will ever know the same definition of “career” that I knew growing up and who knows what the workforce will even look like when he’s ready? His will be a whole new generation and the rules will probably change for him, too. I think that the closing of the doors on careers as we know it is jolting but it doesn’t have to be immobilizing. Maybe the window that it opens is one that is more important—having a job but also being able to pursue a more rewarding and richer path and one that we can walk this time with a poet beside us.

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Are you an Explorer or an Addict?

Not long ago, I was contemplating signing up for a workshop that sounded interesting but still a part of me thought, “Seriously? Why?” I answered myself out loud, announcing to the empty room, “Because I want to, it’s interesting, and I can learn a lot.” With that, I took out my credit card and signed up.

Fast forward to the day of the first class. It was a long day at work, my brain felt like a twisted sponge from having to problem-solve a situation that came up at work, I hadn’t slept well from the night before, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and unplug. You know those days. We all do.

I looked at the clock around 5 p.m. and the the conversation in my head went something like this:

[Cue whine] “Ugh, a class at 8 tonight. You’re already tired from the day, you know the last thing you want to do is be on the phone/computer again for 90 minutes later tonight.”

“I know, but how lazy can I get? I can call from my own home for Pete’s sake. It’s not like I have to drive anywhere.”

“Can’t we just watch TV? America’s Got Talent is on tonight.”

“No. Suck it up. We’re doing it.”

With an eye toward the clock, I made sure not to have a heavy carb dinner so I wouldn’t nod off in the middle of the call, and at 7:58, with a resigned sigh, I dragged my mental feet and moved into another room with my notebook and phone. I was very interested in learning about the subject matter but by the time 8 p.m. rolls around, the last thing I want to do is to actively listen to someone lecture and have to think. Didn’t I know the start time when I signed up for the class? Sure thing, but intention is golden when fueled by caffeine and its promise that anything is possible. I stayed awake and alert and it really was a very good class after all. Six more weeks to go!

I’ve always loved to learn and have a healthy dose of curiosity about how things work, so it’s no surprise to those who know me that I’ve been known to take all sorts of workshops ranging from serious learning and skill building to one day classes of “Oh! So that’s how’s it’s made” which for me included basket-weaving; frame-drum-making; krauting; and making natural herbal salves. As the years go by though, I’ve been more selective about where I invest my time and energy. If signing up for a particular class or workshop is the best way for me to learn what I want to know, then I’m there. If not, someone else can take my seat.

Recently, I started to wonder about people we all know at least one of: those workshop junkies that are always going to one class or another every time you talk to them. Then there are those workshop followers that sign-up, stay for a few classes, but don’t follow through. You’ve heard it: “It takes too much time; costs too much money; I was drunk when I agreed to do it (true excuse someone told me); the location is inconvenient; I can’t get a babysitter; I was too tired to keep doing it; It was boring.”

While yes, some of these are legitimate reasons for quitting a class, I can’t help but wonder what makes some people sign-up for classes on an almost rotational basis and then there are those that are on the sign-up and quit sign-up and quit carousel?

What is their Holy Grail they are looking for? Are they naturally restless souls eagerly checking mailboxes for the next calendar of events or running away from something and looking for the next distraction from their lives? Maybe these are the reasons for some people, but what if the pull was really an addiction to the newness, the rush of possibility, the excitement that was the sole driving force to seek out the constant turnover of a new class, gym membership, cooking class, [fill in the blank]?

And those people that quit the classes? Is it a lack of perseverance or is it that the excitement of the newness and the possibility –the hope– has worn off and so it’s no longer interesting? Perhaps it’s a deep form of self-sabotage where people set themselves up for the high of the experience, and when it’s no longer exciting and the high is no longer there, they quit—already looking for another “fix” before they hit the parking lot.

It’s natural to be excited and full of hope when we try something new but if the personal interest and curiosity become something that changes as often as the hands on the clock, and there’s a pattern of disinterest after a short time, maybe there’s something deeper behind the excuses.

So what drives you? Are you an explorer of new possibilities or an addict to the excitement?