Now that we have a recession, and maybe not so much a recession but a new way of doing business, people are starting to look at their career goals differently. And while interesting was the big goal when we were flush with cash, security will be the brass ring of the near future.
Because really, there is just so much interesting that a person can take. When the world becomes too unstable, that lack of stability consumes us.
Jeff Tweedy, from the band Wilco, describes the senselessness of living on the financial edge: “Having a solid [fiscal] base allows you to look at darker things and actually think about them. I debate people about this suffering myth, this tortured artists stuff, and they almost never buy it.” Tweedy is a harbinger of the trend to come, where the demographic you would expect to be holding out against stability for its own sake are actually leading the push for more of it. Because too much instability can ruin anyone, at any age.
Here are five new ways to approach your career so you can create stability in an unstable workforce:
Treat your career like an investment portfolio.
Jobs are the new asset. Time magazine points out that a good job pays off way more than good investing. Especially if you're not loaded with cash to invest. The way to make sure you always have a job when you want one is to make sure you are always job hunting. At first blush it might seem revolutionary to job hunt constantly, but it's actually a way to make life more secure: You always feel like you can get a job if you need one, because you're honing your skills for the hunt all the time.
Don't frame career choices around fun versus not-fun jobs.
Barry Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College who focuses on how people make choices. And when it comes to career choices, Schwartz recommends going a safe route, if you can find one. “I believe that security is more important to happiness than wealth,” he says.
In a flush economy, safe jobs look boring. For example event planning looks way more fun than accounting. But you need to reframe the choice, says Schwartz, because “it's a false choice. There's plenty of room for joy in a low-flying life.” The steady industries, like accounting, are actually a smarter choice because we don't need a high-risk job to have a fun life. Fun comes from other things.
Volunteer, to create a safety net.
Volunteerism is increasing as Generation Y enters the workforce in a cash-strapped way. Young people use volunteering as a way to instigate change. But also, volunteering is a way to gain experience that you can apply to your workplace skill set to increase your earning power and make you more widely employable.
Also, since stable careers stem from solid networks, working with organizations like Cool People Care allow you to do good, meet other people doing good, and forge connections that will help you in the for-profit world as well. Collaborating around a good cause makes for stronger connections than the usual, routine networking opportunities.
Take a government job.
You've probably already thought of working for the government. So has everyone else: applications to government-based do-gooder organizations are up dramatically since the recession hit. Applications for Teach for America increased 45% and AmeriCorps is on track to triple its applicants pool this year.
The good news about government jobs is that they're getting better. Obama is mandating that arcane, outdated hiring processes end. and, in a nod to the power of best-places-to-work lists (which are often BS, but let's set aside that thought for a moment) the government has it's own best-places-to-work list, with red-hot departments like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Surface Transportation Board.
History shows that these jobs will become more and more in demand, according to Jennifer Senior, writing in New York magazine:
“From Obama on down, people are initiating public discussion that reevaluates the purpose of work — as if trying to remind us, after a long bender of risk-taking and creative economics, that there's dignity in secure generative labor. . . During the Great Depression, many men and women valued security over risk, pursuing careers in the civil service, teaching, and police departments. It was a time of very conservative choices about how to make a living.”
So if you're considering a government job, find one now, before you get further behind and the competition gets tougher.
If you must be risky, mitigate.
Start-ups are super risky. And in this economy, even a smaller percentage of workers will be able to stomach the ups and downs of start-up life. But some people are just born to work at start-ups.
Saras Sarasvathy, professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, focuses her research on what makes entrepreneurs successful, and she finds that one of the universal traits is that successful entrepreneurs seek to avoid risk, even as they embark on risky ventures.
So if you must have a startup, make your startup life as stable as you can by picking a product offering that gives customers the same thing you want: stability.
A great example of a company like this is Alice. It's an online store for buying essentials like toilet paper and toothpaste (and shampoo, which I actually blogged about at Alice). One cool thing about Alice is that there is a financial planning tool to go along with the purchasing tool. Which plays to a new, fiscally conservative lifestyle, yes? And when we talk about my own start-up, Brazen Careerist, we focus on career stability: People need to manage their identities online in order to create a stable career for themselves.
So I guess there are at least two ways to think about stability in your life: One is to create it, by thinking about your job as an asset, and investing conservatively. The other way to think about stability is to sell it. And if you sell it well enough, you just might accidentally stumble on stability yourself. That's what I'm hoping for.