The Real Future of Work – Part 2


This post is a follow up to my first blog on The Real Future of Work – Part 1, which you can read HERE if you’re interested.

I was intrigued by management consultant Ron Ashkenas’s article, Navigating The Emotional Side of a Career Transition, in the Harvard Business Review.  Ashkenas had worked for the same firm for 37 years, starting just after graduate school, and decided to try a new path.  He found himself struggling in ways he didn’t predict. He was facing three hurdles:

  • Sense of guilt
  • Adjusting his personal identity and sense of self
  • Letting go of old patterns and habits.

I think Mr. Ashkenas has hit the nail on the head when he talked about obstacles and solutions. I’d like to add the following to the conversation.

We will increasingly need to be the CEOs of our own professional lives. We can’t passively allow our employers to decide our careers; our professional success is not their main interest (our performance is), but it should be ours.

Accustomed as we may be to our one-professional-thing-identities (as in dentist, plumber, mechanic, attorney) we may not be able to make an adequateliving doing only one thing under one label in the future.  And we may not want to.  We still ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, reinforcing that the best answers are one-word answers.  That doesn’t work any morewhen you’re asking a kid. How many 12 or 22 year olds know what single work they will pursue for the rest of their lives?  We need a smarter question to ask ourselves as adults. What choices of work situations will give us the best and most remunerative experience in the next 3-5 years?  Beyond that we probably can’t predict with any accuracy.

Mr. Ashkenas’s experience will not be universally applicable.  Many of us have not had one job/employer/career.  We have had several. For lots of us, this variety can be a source of confidence.  We made major changes before and we can again.  On the other hand for lots of us, multiple job or career changes can make transitions worse because we blame ourselves for failing to find our one true calling to which we could devote our entire work lives.  I believe it’s a trap to believe that each of us had only a single career that should last a lifetime.  Maybe we have several which are concurrent or sequential.

Letting go of old patterns and habits will have to be bigger than shaking off the patterns and habits of a single, long-term profession or job.  The letting go must also include the willingness to NOT pursue a single replacement for what we’re letting go. We already know that many people older than 50 are statistically the last hired AND, given the hollowing out of the middle management tier, they are unlikely to be hired into a job of comparable status, responsibility and compensation than the one they left.  Seeking only a new job to replace the old one cuts them off from a substantial pool of emerging work possibilities.  And this presumes they have kept their skills and expertise not only current but leading edge.   And it presumes little if any age discrimination.

Welcome to the new world of work for pay.

I’m happy that unemployment rates are down and that the economy is doing well.  That said, now is the time to think not only about the next economic downturn but also how you can start now to build sustainable, small income streams so that being unemployed or searching for a scarce or non-existent job aren’t your only two options.

Click HERE to read Ashkenazi’s article.


One response to “The Real Future of Work – Part 2”

  1. Jari Searns says:

    Hi George! Interesting article that any thinking person could scarcely disagree with…your proposition makes great sense; however, the execution of that proposition needs further examination. To any person who has had a successful career doing whatever they were doing, lay off or retirement can be very scary and the thought of seeking a new path to pursue somewhat mind boggling. It’s not simply the what, but the how and I think the older one gets, the more difficult it becomes to take up the pursuit. Life and opportunity often seem “smaller” and fear of failure or rejection or incompetence loom large…got a step function plan to follow?

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