I have never been great at picking my own clothes. I’m great at interior design, but I have a blind spot for clothes. So I email Melissa photos of my outfits, and she uses her photographic memory of my closet to edit my outfits.
When I sent her this photo, she said: “What is this?”
I only wanted her opinion about the color of the shirt, so I thought it was okay that it was blurry. But the more I look at the picture, the more I think that it’s how I feel about myself right now.
I am not quite sure who I am, right now. And given the current career climate, this is actually how most people see themselves, too—blurry from constant movement, settled on the basics, but unclear on the specifics.
And then I read an article in Fast Company this month titled Generation Flux. The article is about how careers are constantly moving and our identity is therefore moving as well.
So I am focused on how to make myself more clear about what I look like. At least right now. And here are things I think we each need to do to pin down our moving-target, career-jumping selves.
1. Get a plan for post-35.
This is a great post by Matt Heusser, from Google, that outlines why you only have fifteen years to put a plan together. By the time you’re 35 you have to get out of any career space that is for young people and settle into an older person job.
Want to know what young people jobs are? Making sales (as opposed to managing), writing code (as opposed to managing), working across three time zones. These are jobs that middle-aged people do not get. Mostly because no one would respect a person who has worked for 15 years and still has to take a job like this. These are not good jobs for having a life. These are jobs for working long, hard hours with the intention of laying the groundwork for a better career.
Sara Horowitz, writing in the Atlantic, suggests that the new jobs will be independent, short-term and maybe even coffee-shop based. Others, like Cathy Benko at Deloitte, suggest there will be a series of lateral moves that will somehow become respectable. Anya Kamenetz, writing in Fast Company, says this will look like continuous, back-to-back career change, so that job hopping begins to look tame and totally normal.
At any rate, you can’t get through the second part of your career doing the work you did in the first part. So there is not time to rest in a safe spot for your career.
The other reason you only get 15 years is that your salary tops out in your late 30s. (Actually, age 35 for women and 40 for men.) Statistically speaking, you are extremely unlikely to earn more than you are earning at that age.
2. Get good at setting boundaries.
In the old workplace you could take one job, on an established path, and move forward in a predictable way. The average job today lasts four years. (And other research shows that people who are staying a lot longer than four years are probably getting themselves into trouble.)
If you are changing jobs every four years, you are going to have to manage lots of close relationships with co-workers and bosses. This requires being very good at setting boundaries, which, in turn, requires good self-knowledge.
Most of our career problems have, on some level, a boundary component. For example, many people in their 20s know what they’d like to do but they cannot separate the dreams of their parents from their own, and so they make bad choices for themselves that they spend a decade undoing.
In other cases, career choices are clear and good, but a spouse has dreams that are incompatible with this choice. For example, the spouse wants a income, or more attentive child care, or a relocation that is not possible. In this case there would need to be a family talk about boundaries and how one person’s dreams cannot depend on impossible career feats by the other person.
The better we are at managing boundaries in our personal relationships, the better we’ll be at managing our career decisions. And as careers become more dynamic, this equation becomes more true.
3. Get tons of coaching.
I have always been a huge fan of coaching. It’s not only that I have hired people for help with what to wear. In fact, I think one of my biggest strengths is to get coaching from a wide range of people.
As a result of realizing this personal strength, last year I started doing a lot more coaching for other people, and I started reading more about coaching as well. For example, all high performers get a lot of coaching. And the need for coaching does not wane as you get better and better at your job.
So many people told me that the coaching session I did with them changed their life that I decided I wanted to get that. I wanted a coaching session that changed my life. So I asked Christine Carter to do a coaching session with me. She wrote the book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. She coaches families on how to create systems that promote family happiness. She helps them restructure schedules and priorities, which are exactly the things I’ve been having trouble with since I moved to the farm and started homeschooling.
We dealt with fundamental decisions like when I will do my work each day and how the family can be more predictable. And you know what? She changed my life. Because she took questions that are difficult and complicated for me and she was able to find good answers quickly. Which, by the way, is exactly what I am able to do when I coach people about career decisions.
A coach works on the same problem with hundreds of people, so the coach is great at seeing how to solve that one problem for you. For anything. I’ve written about coaching for mental imaging, coaching for more optimism, coaching for gait. Each of those coaches have blown me away by teaching me something totally new about myself and helping me solve problems related to that area.
So I can’t stress enough how much I recommend that you get coaching this year. You cannot rely on your company to teach you what you need to know to manage your career. Because first of all, no one knows that answer except you. But also, a company cannot make that kind of investment in employees when the average tenure is four years.
And one more thing about coaching: It’s very hard to know what question to ask. Which may make you think that this is a reason to not get coaching. But in fact, learning to ask good questions is something you can get coached for as well.