Careers are funny things. When we reflect on them, we can always tell a narrative; explain how one opportunity seamlessly turned into the next until we reach an endgame. Yet when we’re living them, they can feel like a different experience entirely. Often we find ourselves happily meandering; jumping from one job to the next and not taking it all too seriously. Sometimes, we make what we think are enlightened moves, only to take a step in the wrong direction. Other times still, we fall into something and go with it, even though creeping doubt and resentment claw their way into our very beings. But even when we consciously realise we’re unhappy, we often don’t do anything about it.
As we move through life, careers can be not so much a journey to the top, but a journey of increasing self-awareness. Without a ‘shock’ to the system, such as redundancy or a forced break from the constant noise of our working lives, we rarely get to sit back, think and reflect. We rarely get to ask ourselves the critical questions, such as ‘Am I really interested in this job or suited to it? Are my talents best utilised here? Or even ‘Is this job a true reflection of my values in life? Do I even know what that is?!?’
But now, suddenly, a whole lot of us might find ourselves with the shock, and the time, to answer life’s most pressing questions. With over 3.4 million Australians expected to be out of work in the coming months, we have to ask ourselves, what is going to happen to our notion of careers? Will we soon see a Great Reset?
The ‘falling into our jobs’ phenomenon
At any given time, up to 85% of us are either disengaged, or actively disengaged at work. This effectively means that the large majority of us hate our jobs. Although that figure seems startlingly high, according to the Harvard Business Review, there’s four very good reasons why.
The first is the unsurprising fact that money talks, and while it may not ‘motivate’’ as much as we think, it still matters. Say perhaps, when you were younger, you dreamt of becoming an artist, but your hopes were soon dashed as you realised how difficult it was to monetise your work. Money wasn’t your motivation, but admittedly – you needed it. So because, in the end, it mattered, you decided to become an accountant.
The second reason that so many of us are miserable at work is because employers are very good at pulling the wool over our eyes – and ultimately, it’s not their fault. It’s in their best interest to market themselves to attract the best talent, even if the best talent isn’t the best fit. Take, for example, Google – the company that has arguably the most enviable employer brand in the world. Google is so popular that they receive over 3 million applications per year. Working there is everyone’s dream job, right? Not so, with multiple employees saying publicly that at the tech giant, ‘you are given everything you want, but it costs you the only things that matter.’ Despite many Googlers apparently despising their jobs, not many leave. Interesting, this is not just a phenomenon at Google – it’s true everywhere.
The third reason that we fall into jobs, and stay there, is that we’re simply too good at tolerating them. Research shows that often, even if people are working in meaningless roles with bad managers, they’re still fairly likely to stay due to a kind of ‘devil you know’ scenario. A bad job could always be worse, right?
And the final reason that we’re all so unhappy, and one of the most prevalent, is simply that we don’t know what else we should be doing. Helen Green, an experienced career consultant and founder of Career Confident believes that not knowing what our career options are, let alone what we could or should be doing, often leads us to fall into jobs in various circumstances:
‘If you don’t have a clear career direction, you’re more likely to take opportunities as they arise, for example, you might work in your family business, or someone might tap you on the shoulder for something and you’ll agree. Whilst being open to opportunities is positive and can lead to terrific outcomes, the reverse can easily happen too’
’Alternatively, especially when we’re younger, we get influenced by what other people think so you might pursue a path because your parents or others encouraged you”’
Not having a great deal of self-awareness is of course acceptable when we’re inexperienced, and experiencing jobs can help us clarify what we want. But the problem with continually falling into jobs, Helen says, it’s that it’s accidental, rather than proactive or purposeful. And sometimes, people end up feeling as if they’re trapped”.
‘After we start our career, we get really busy. Then our lives get busier, we have kids, we acquire financial commitments. At some point, we might think to ourselves “I want to change, I should change, I need to change” but we don’t know how and it all seems too hard, so we talk ourselves out of it.’
If changing careers is so hard, what prompts us to do it?
‘Changing careers is easy’ – said no one, ever. But given that many of us feel that the barriers to doing so are high, what eventually prompts us to try and do so?
The ‘rage quit,’ or the idea that you simply decide, one day, to tell your boss to stick it and then wind up the next day doing something entirely different, is more of a fantasy than reality for most people. Realistically, the decision to finally change career comes, for many, after months or even years of unhappiness, which can start to impact on our families and even our mental or physical health. And this unhappiness can come from a number of places, for example, perhaps over time, you’ve simply realised that your employer doesn’t share your values, you have stopped learning in your job or you’ve been repeatedly looked over for promotions, so you feel ignored or taken for granted.
Another possibility – and one that a lot of people will be experiencing right one – is that the realisation that you’re unhappy will come as a result of redundancy. This is something Helen Green has seen regularly in her clients, and it produces a ripple effect of questioning in just about every area of their lives:
‘When a big change is forced upon you, such as you lose your job for the first time ever, it can have a very profound effect on your psyche. Usually, the thing that people don’t have in their lives in time. But when you’re made redundant, suddenly you do have time to do some thinking and self-assessment.’
‘It’s only then that people start really thinking about what meaning they want out of their lives.’
So will we see a ‘Great Reset’ of everyone’s careers?
Anyone who has ever been made redundant knows that it’s a shock, and not a good one. Job loss, especially if you have never experienced it before, feels like grief. You grieve for your work friends and your familiar routine. You grieve for your salary and the lifestyle it afforded you. But for many, it’s the loss of sense of self that stings the most. Our careers, and by extension, our job titles, give us status, a purpose, and a sense of self-worth, and without them, we’re left recoiling. Who am I if I’m not a Marketing Manager at Virgin Australia? We might find ourselves seriously asking.
The transition period can be long, painful, and right now, have seemingly no end in sight. Some people want to jump right into job searching as a way to numb (or forget) about the grief they’re feeling. But many more of us need time, space and help, preferably from a professional, such a career coach. We need a Great Reset. We need to finally answer the question of not just ‘What am I meant to be doing?’ but ‘Who am I meant to be and where can I add value? What do I want my working life to look like and what can I do to facilitate this change?
Yet whether we’re able to find the answer, and if we do find it, answer the call to change careers, remains to be seen. Given how few jobs there are at the moment, many of us might just be grateful to take what we can get, and will (at least in the short term) prioritise survival over the lofty goal of doing something we love.
But in the future, that might all change, says Helen Green. Helen believes that the pandemic has already brought about some positive career benefits, for example, it has essentially ‘normalised’ redundancies as so many people are experiencing them. For fortunate employees, it may have also bought them time – if their employer is offering flexible redundancy benefits, they may be able to use the next few months to invest in seeing a career coach, or upskilling in an area of their choosing.
Yet ultimately, the change, Helen says, will still be up to the individual:
‘The pandemic may well cause seismic shifts in the way we all view our careers, and more broadly, our lives.’
‘But ultimately, changing careers takes a hell of a lot of courage, and just as much action. Now, like at any time, you need to invest if you want to reap the rewards.’
Has the pandemic changed the way you see yourself and your career? Are you more motivated to change than ever, or in the current environment does it feel too hard? Let us know in the comments below.
Career Money Life is currently offering free access to our platform to help any businesses who may have transitioning employees. Employees who transition with the help of Career Money Life report that the control and choice our platform gives leaves them feeling more secure, empowered, and ready for the next stage of their lives.
Helen Green is one of the many exceptional career coaches offering her support through Career Money Life.