Don’t let your career become outdated

I’m still stuck on that study in the Harvard Business Review that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The data shows that what women want from their career is respect, and what men want is a series of engaging problems to solve. This struck me as totally true.

But personality type complicates the picture. My personality type is ENTJ—which is only 0.5% of the female population. So you can bet that I care less about respect than most women. And the guys who work in non-profits saving lives and being kind or whatever, it’s a safe assumption that they are feeling types and that they want respect more than complex problems.

It’s important to know where you fall on this spectrum so you know what you are looking for in a job. Of course it’s also important that you know your personality type because then you’ll know the type of work that will feel good. And once you know how you want to spend your days and what your goals is for work, you are halfway to being able to coach yourself – and all the other people I coach as well. (The other half you need for coaching success is the ability to see immediately how people are lying to themselves and have the guts to tell them.)

But there’s another problem looming in the background. We are all scared of becoming irrelevant because it limits our options for getting what we want. I found that my worries about irrelevance started when I withdrew my application to a graduate program in history and played professional beach volleyball instead. I worried smart people would ignore me.

Then I quit playing volleyball and I worried that hot people would ignore me.

Then I had a baby and I worried that everyone would ignore me.

Which they sort of did. Well, they didn’t ignore me in the mental ward, with my new baby. But what I realized soon after that is people always worry about being irrelevant to some group or another. And I found that the best way to solve the problem is to keep learning and keep fitting yourself into new places when the old places don’t work for you any more.

And we are all facing that as Generation Z enters the workforce. I study generational trends voraciously. Now I realize that watching who’s coming up is a way to ensure I’ll never feel irrelevant. I can see what will matter and what won’t matter and I can reposition myself.

Here’s how we should all be adjusting so we can continue to meet our goals well past the time that Generation Z floods the office.

1. Forget about collaborative leadership.
Due to Generation X’s disdain for authority and Generation Y’s obsession with being part of a group, we have a leadership vacuum. Generation Z will fill that in six seconds. Entrepreneur magazine is known for celebrating the 25-year-old CEO. But in their recent leadership issue it was all gray-haired men. Why? Because the Baby Boomers were the last generation to be comfortable with top-down leadership. But Generation Z will lead top-down, (similar to kids born to WW II veterans). And it will feel good to them.

2. Forget about female leadership.
Everyone can shut up about “let’s get more women into leadership positions.” Because they don’t want leadership positions. Or they’d get them. Obviously. Women want to have time for their kids. And leaders – especially top-down leaders – dedicate their lives to their work. There won’t be female leadership and male leadership. There will be people who lead at home and people who lead at work. People will take ownership of outcomes for the areas of life they care most about.

3. Forget about dispersed media.
The age of the big blog is over. There are too many. And also, blogging is a sweat shop job that no one will want in future generations. So media will shift to big media sites. They will just be a little smarmier. They will break news like Gawker does. They will steal content from each other liberally. And they will be run by algorithms rather than editors. Also, Generation Z won’t care about managing their own brand online. They don’t use their own names online right now, so there is no reason to believe they will in the future.  Gen Y, as teens, were all about making themselves noticeably special online. Gen Z just wants to connect with their offline friends where their parents can’t find them.

 4. Forget about living with your parents in your 20s.
Aaron Penn of Urbanophile wrote a great post describing the decline of work among Generation Y. One of the reasons 80% of Gen Y live with their parents after college is that their Baby Boomer parents are living in McMansions. The next generation will not have so big a house to come home to. And the unemployment rate for Gen Y is high, but it’s artificially high. They were raised to accept only a job that’s a dream job, so for Gen Y, going to their parents’ house is better than taking a bad job. And now they are unemployed.

Generation X invented the word McJob because they took a McJob when offered one. And their kids, Gen Z, will do the same. So unemployment will soon be a sign of being old and outdated. Gen Z will see this and take whatever job they can get.

5. Forget about hiding behind your own generation. 
Our inclination is to identify with our era. We hope truths of our generation rule the workplace for our whole lives. But if you settle into what is true for your generation, you are going to become outdated fast. Because what is true in the workplace is largely a function of what the new generation brings to work.

For those of you who can understand generational trends, you can adjust where you point yourself in you career to accommodate these shifts.

For those of you who don’t believe in grouping people by generation, get over yourself.

I’m going to tell you three names. You tell me how old each of the women is: Shirley, Jennifer, Ashley.

You know, right? Because in general, each generation picks a certain type of name. It’s not just your hunch. It’s reality.

The Baby Name Wizard shows trends in names as just one example of how easily we can make generalizations about generations.

And look, if you can’t see the name Madison coming up as a Gen Z name, then you need to read this post again and again, because seeing trends does not come easily to you.

60 replies
    • Marie
      Marie says:

      Indeed. I am a female XNFP (X = exactly between the two extremes). You’d think I want respect out of my career. All I want is interesting problems to solve. And, you know, shorter hours, because lawyer.

      • Andrea
        Andrea says:

        Hm. I think there are fine shades of difference between these three ideas vis a vis respect:


        I don’t have any links, but is it sexist to say that men *expect* respect, and thus don’t *seek* it?

        Likewise, I hypothesize that women may *expect* to be challenged in the job (especially, as you are fond of reminding us, because her challenges at home do not tend to lessen), but seek *respect* more actively?

        Hmmm…obviously that doesn’t work all the time, but I think the semantics are important nonetheless.

        It’s weird though…now that I’ve gone to graduate school, I see children as a very interesting problem, but one that’s hard to get away from once you have them. Maybe men tacitly seek *choices* about the interesting problems to solve more often than women. And maybe women get to participate in the more rewarding problems of child rearing, traditionally, but with less choice…well, I could go on and on (INTP much.)

  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Given that I make software for a living, I don’t see that going away anytime soon. So I’m not worried about my career becoming obsolete.

    But I am kind of nervous about what happens when Gen Z starts getting management positions in this industry. As an industry, we are famously suspicious of and resistant to top-down management. I rather like it that way (says the Gen X fellow).

    • Christof
      Christof says:

      Until ten years ago software was mostly seen as an optimization technology. Today software is a product. Companies will always work at minimizing production costs. You can expect the software business to change dramatically over the next decade, or two. Software production is still way too expensive.

  2. redrock
    redrock says:

    so, generation z is the one currently just out of diapers? what will the next generation be called? AA?

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      A quick search shows there is not a consensus on the dates for Gen Z or even if it is Gen Z or Plurals or Millennials. Many date Z to 1997, so they are starting to turn 17. I agree that my 8 year old doesn’t have many Gen Xers quaking in their boots yet (only the ones who have met her ;) ), but it isn’t exactly trend spotting if you wait until they are established in the work force.


      is a good article that I just read.

      “Whereas Gen Ys (ages 18-34) are optimistic, Gen Zs are realistic. They understand how scary the world can be, having grown up post 9/11, in the wake of the Great Recession and amid countless reports of school violence. They’ve seen the effects of the economy firsthand and are more aware of troubling times. These dark events will undoubtedly make them more cautious and security-minded, but will also inspire them to improve the world.”

      “Despite the frightening times they’ve faced, only 6% of Zs are fearful about the future. Having grown up amid major innovation and social change, Zs are inquisitive and globally aware. They’re already offering suggestions, solving problems, and proving their savvy, demonstrating how prepared they are for stressful and uncertain times.”

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I don’t doubt generational shifts in behavior – they are often driven by external events, like the cold war, or advent of the internet. However, I doubt that a 17 year old will already present a view of the world which provides a general trend. For example, the 2008 economic downturn was not predicted in 2005 in this severity – but it hugely impacts many people and will have a lasting impact on those just entering the workforce a.k.a. generation Y. This impact is impossible to predict by interviewing the 2005 17 year old GenY kid. THe shifts in attitude and approaches to life are interesting to observe, but they have to be taken with a grain of salt. And by the way, the generational progression is very different in other countries – baby boomer time is not a universal generation but firmly confined to the US in terms of timeline.

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          I think the age a person is when something significant happens is extremely formative and can be generalized, to some extent. Of course people of each generation are different and will bring those differences to their interpretation of and response to shared events. But I do think they can help to shape a common core.

          I certainly don’t think there were many 17 year olds predicting the collapse in 2005 and how it would affect them, but to say that “it was not predicted in this severity” just isn’t true.

          Just because it wasn’t common or accepted knowledge doesn’t mean that no one was forecasting that trend. I’ve got emails from my father beginning in August of ’05 warning of the catastrophic housing bubble. Every few months I would get another one that sounded more and more like Chicken Little. I thought he was overreacting, but we did make sure we sold our house before prices dropped and bought after. He certainly wasn’t the only one who was really concerned, it is just that those who had a vested interest in keeping the bubble afloat were also the ones with clout over the media. Oops.

          Not sure where the comment about WWII boomers being just a US thing came from, but I don’t think that is true. 1946 is generally listed as the start for most of the countries impacted. Well, Germany’s is considered to have started in 1955, but…

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            Germany is just an example I know particularly well. The increased number in births in the middle to late fifties created in essence a “bulge” in the age distribution, however, it did not lead to a significant overall increase in the population numbers – the big retirement issue in many western european countries come from an essentially shrinking population. Germany is indeed a special case since its “baby boomer” generation if we want to keep that designation is actually composed of two very diverse groups in terms of life experience – those grown up in the east, and those grown up in the west.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Generational behavior is cyclical — going back hundreds of years. So where we are in the cycle dictates that generation’s response to current events, and not the other way around.

          For example, baby boomers responded to Vietnam by being iconoclasts, which is their style for everything. And Gen Y responded to 9/11 by looking at the bright side, which is their style for everything.

          Here’s a good link about the cycles of generations throughout history:



  3. Lisa B. Sharp
    Lisa B. Sharp says:

    I have a question/possible future blog post for you. I feel like I’ve become outdated due to motherhood, layoffs, cross country move and now homeschooling. I want to continue to be relevant but not sure if that’s possible. I’m not interested in 9 to 5 (due to homeschooling). I agree that the blogging world is innundated with blogs that seem to be saying the same stuff or rehashing other peoples stuff and they dont make any money. Any thoughts on how to get your career groove/relevancy back when you are over 40?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Most people do best entering the workforce by starting their own business. This is true for people in their early 20s or early 40s. For people who quit their jobs to take care of kids, if you had a big career before you had kids, if it’s only been 3-5 years, you can usually go back. Any longer and you are probably going to be best off starting your own business.

      There are plenty of routes to do online businesses that are part time. Just because blogs are over doesn’t mean that online businesses are over.

      That route would give you great independence and control over your income.


  4. Amber
    Amber says:

    I’m definitely not an ENTJ but, as a programmer, I’m more motivated by interesting problems than respect. But if not being ignored is the same thing as respect, then I suppose we are all motivated by it.

  5. Eric Walker
    Eric Walker says:

    Great article. Good reading. I agree/disagree with point #3. I agree that the big blog is over. And I agree that they will use big sites to disperse their content rather than their own blogs. I disagree that they won’t care about their brand online. Just because they’re not using their name now doesn’t mean they won’t later when they actually give a shit. If this generation is going to make something of themselves they will inevitably mature. Especially for the ones that will take on leadership roles. Totally agree with your statement here: “There will be people who lead at home and people who lead at work. People will take ownership of outcomes for the areas of life they care most about.”

  6. Julie C.
    Julie C. says:

    As a BB former senior corporate exec, I agree that women of my era wanted respect, which came as a result of having, and solving, interesting problems—in other words, we wanted it all (and for some, that included kids and family). I have said that this is the reason Martha Stewart was the icon of our time—-made big bucks doing girly things, going to the slam from doing MBA/finance stuff, then making more big bucks, and looking good all the while! My hope is to retain my relevancy in whatever arena I choose to participate, and that the Gens that follow have a healthy planet in which to fully experience life.

  7. Rob Dromgoole
    Rob Dromgoole says:

    I just wanted to comment that I really enjoy your writing style and ability to tell a story. While I do not always agree with what you write, you’re clearly gifted at writing. Thanks for your contributions and all you do.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Recently, I caught the end of a discussion on the radio about Gen Y. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the source. I hate that. Anyways, the person being interviewed said Gen Y was essentially being split and could be categorized two ways in the work world. Those Gen Y’ers would take any job (intern, McJob, or whatever) to get the necessary experience for further advancement and those Gen Y’ers who would go to graduate school or move back in with their parents. Essentially, the doers & self-starters and the others who are waiting/putting off until conditions are better. This characterization of two different groups within one generation was characterized as being unique. I don’t study generations but I thought it was an interesting observation. I don’t know if other generations could be separated like that.
    Also I don’t know how it’s possible to not have collaborative leadership in the workplace today regardless of a generation’s lack of affinity for it. I say that for two reasons. There are four generations in the workforce today that need to mesh together. And with even more specialization of careers in the workforce, even more collaboration is necessary today to execute the delivery of a product successfully.

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      I wish you could have gotten the source since that’s a thought that I’ve had too. My opinion on the matter is that in previous generations there were leaders and followers; both of these are active in their own way.

      Generation Y (my generation) has some leaders but a dearth of followers, because those that aren’t leaders are just doing their own thing (or nothing at all).

      It seems that the whole generational theory assumes that genertaional transformation is based on reactions to the cultural shaping from two generations previous (ie your parents). However, extended childbearing years per cohort are becoming more standard. This means that the its not always clear who the current generation’s parents are.

      For example, I am Gen Y and I have a Gen Z son. As a result of having my son, I meet with other moms at the park and such. The moms I meet are anywhere from 23-40, but the kids are more tightly packed in age (0-3 years old).

      This is the one reason that I don’t love using the generational theory to make future predicitions.

      • Rayne of Terror
        Rayne of Terror says:

        My husband and I are both at the end of Gen X (’74, ’77) and my parents are Boomers and his parents are Greatest Gen.

  9. Lisa P
    Lisa P says:

    I’m Gen Y, but I’m more anti-authority than group-oriented. However, I definitely see that pattern among other Gen-Yers. I’m just weird.

  10. karelys
    karelys says:

    Sometimes I just roll my eyes at the assumptions that Penelope makes. Like how women want respect and men want challenges. Then I reread the paragraph and realize that it’s my preconception of what I am reading that colors my understanding of the message.
    I don’t have a career. I have a job. I wish it was a career. I think most people in poverty and the lower class don’t have careers. They just have jobs. And when you’re in that bracket people care more for consistency than other things like respect. I guess the closer to the bottom that you are in the pyramid of actualization the less you care for the things up top since you’re barely getting by on the basics.

    This post was interesting to me on the part about forget about living with parents in your 20s. It’s interesting. When I kept hearing that people graduated from college and could not find jobs I seriously believed the economy was awful because I didn’t have the education to actually read statistics or understand what was really going on. Those unemployed people could really get jobs anywhere. No one would ever fight an illegal immigrant to go pick apples in the field in inclement whether when you have a college degree.

    So now, I just feel better about the whole thing. Although I don’t know it gets me any closer to anything I want. It’s just interesting to know more and I am sure it will bring things full circle eventually and be beneficial somehow.

  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Remember during the blogging seminar I said I wanted to change my name? (you called me me a douchebag; maybe that will jog your memory) THIS IS WHY. My mother swears I was named before Love Story came out; irrelevant, as it turns out. Apparently, love does mean having to say you’re sorry.

    • Jenn
      Jenn says:

      I’ve wanted to change my name for a long time. Wanting a unique identity doesn’t make you a douchebag.

    • Rayne of Terror
      Rayne of Terror says:

      I stopped using my first name Jennifer when I was 18. By using my middle name of Rayne people assume I am younger than I am because Rayne is only now entering the top 1000 of baby names.

    • Jo
      Jo says:

      I am confused. Penelope called you a douchebag for wanting to change your name? So what does that make Penelope who changed her name from Adrienne to Penelope?

  12. Matt
    Matt says:

    In many ways people’s careers will become outdated if they let them. In years past external forces beyond an individuals control caused the downfall of occupational areas.
    But this is the era of the internet, online learning and mooc’s where barriers are torn down and everyone has access to information. Generational issues aside it comes down to each individual.

  13. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    Totally off subject…I was browsing my facebook timeline today and came across a friend from college. It took him 8 years to get a bachelor’s degree. Now 6 months after his graduation, he is back in school…to become a “licensed massage therapist”. My first thought was “LOSER”. There is this group of Gen Y-ers that spend years and years and years in school because school is the easy part. Actually getting out in the world and making things happen is the hard part. It has been 6 months since my own graduation and I must say that college was way easier. However, instead of racking up student loan debt for a Master’s degree, I am focusing solely on my real estate career. I think a lot of Gen Y-ers like to avoid the inevitable rather than facing their fears.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think we all like to avoid the inevitable rather than facing our fears! I think each generation has their own favorite type of avoiding behaviors.


    • karelys
      karelys says:

      He could be avoiding the “real world” or he could have suddenly realized that all along he was following what he supposed was the good/right way to go about things and then it wasn’t.

  14. Lindsey C
    Lindsey C says:

    I was just thinking about this the other day. Gen Y is obsessed with getting trained and coached. How will you change your business and courses for Gen Z? Which coaches and training seminars will survive and which won’t?

    I think about this for my business, too. Right now I help successful Baby Boomers do digital marketing because they think they have to but don’t want to do it themselves. What will I do when Gen Z comes along and a) doesn’t need that service and b) probably already does it better than I do?

  15. Chauncy
    Chauncy says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the double-standard regarding respect in the workplace.

    It’s not that women “want” respect.

    A woman’s personal life is judged by both men and women in the workplace, and the way they are judged determines the opportunities they are offered. It affects their career in a big way.

    Men aren’t treated that way. Men have the luxury of the “boys will be boys” mentality. So respect isn’t an issue, and they are given opportunities and guidance regardless of what they choose to do in their personal lives.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Excellent point.
      I also think this is why women fill grad and postgrad degree programs – they hope it’ll gain the respect of others, and it gives them more confidence.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s so true. But actually I think women are just more judg-y of other people in general. If you look at personality types, the FJ types — people who would judge other people — are by far more women than men. And NT types are more men – people who wouldn’t care about what other people do.

      And also we know women care about personal lives more than men, so women judge people by their personal lives more than men.

      Take the example of Savannah Gutheris having a baby. It’s not that interesting if a male anchor has a baby because we know how he will manage having a baby and a big career – he’ll rely on his wife and household help. But A woman is likely to have more conflict, so it makes sense that we would watch her more closely. To see what she does.

      Now that I think about it, I watch women so closely in order to see if I can get some good ideas for myself.


  16. sarah
    sarah says:

    Loved the post Penelope. You did an awesome job writting it with great links. I think you did a good job with your trend spotting abilities predictions. Im not sure why everyone is so offended over predicting trends….

  17. christy
    christy says:

    Most important quote in this post (imo):
    “There will be people who lead at home and people who lead at work.”

    Penelope, I’d love to see you write more often (or at least more blatantly since you refer to this indirectly all the time) on this subject.

  18. Scott Asai
    Scott Asai says:

    Penelope, you’re really in your element when you share your theories/predictions because it helps simplify things. I think your sweet spot is consulting others. Thanks!

  19. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    First thought: why did Penelope put my name on a penis?

    Best, Jennifer (b. 1971, an INTJ who needs interesting work more than relationships at work, but who does require respect)

  20. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Posting a comment because I must point out there simply has not been enough Jennifers posting already.

  21. Nur costa
    Nur costa says:

    I entered your name “Penelope” in the Baby name wizard and it was very popular in the 40s and then it was not used anymore.

    Until in the 90s it increased again… and from the 2000s on, it grew exponentially. Maybe you triggered that trend? ;)

  22. Debbi
    Debbi says:

    Does being a housewife count as a profession that requires respect? I often wonder this as it seems the answer is often NO.

  23. Angela
    Angela says:

    I am an INTJ woman, born in 1978. Stuck in-between Gen Y and X. And, as a middle child, stuck in between dumb and dumber. But, in all seriousness, thanks for the babynamewizard plug. Total time waster. Now, butt, seat, taxes.


  24. GretchenWieners
    GretchenWieners says:

    Well, I at least appreciate that this was the least-mean thing you’ve said about Gen Y. (I realize that even that sentence was very Gen Y of me).

    I know you’re trying to say controversial things about Gen Z, and clearly well before anyone can know anything about them, because that’s how you can cement yourself as a ‘trendspotter’. Reality is there is very little lost if you’re wrong, but a lot to gain if you’re right.

    So, in that vein, I am going to throw something out there. You might be right about Gen Z being a generation of leaders. True to Gen Y form, I’m not terribly interested in that. But, I do believe that Gen Z will not be very innovative, on the whole. I think Gen Y is innovative. I think that we have Gen X to thank for that, of course, but the proliferation of the internet had an ENORMOUS impact on my childhood (I was born in 1986 for reference.) We came of age believing that there were AMAZING things out there to be invented still. We walked into a veritable revolution.

    I don’t know a lot of older Gen Z kids, so I’m not sure what they are like. My experience is more with my friends’ kids, who cap out at about 5. But I already feel like there is some… taking for granted of technologies that already exist. And really, what is being invented these days? Apps? What’sApp gets bought for 19 billion dollars and we – Gens Y, X, and older – are shocked. Gen Z will not seeing that as shocking. Where does the incentive to innovate come from?

    We (Gen Y) grew up watching people like Steve Jobs. Gen Z will watch… Mark Zuckerburg? How does that not have an impact?

    • GretchenWieners
      GretchenWieners says:

      Also, Penelope, the upcoming generation is shaping up to be much more conservative, politically, than mine was. How do you think that plays in?

  25. Cheryl Morris
    Cheryl Morris says:


    I read the book Generations a while ago, and it was very interesting. Apparently there is a pattern of four different life views, and this pattern repeats every four generations.

  26. maria@moneyprinciple
    maria@moneyprinciple says:

    I am an ENTJ and though I knew we are few didn’t fully appreciate just how few (and to a degree the world should be grateful for us and also that we are few). I always say that I’ll settle for being respected (rather than liked) and see dealing with interesting problems to solve as a different dimention. Then again, I am an academic and research is what I do.

    I was fascinated by your scatch of the trends; broadly agree though I would suggest we add one. I believe that many in Gen Y (and most in Z) won’t really have jobs. They’ll have to become what I call ‘work nomads’ and live their lives as freelance workers with a rainbow income.

  27. Dan Munro
    Dan Munro says:

    Interesting, I haven’t seen someone look deeply at “Gen Z” before. My little brother is this age and what you’ve said describes him perfectly. Good to consider for future business and coaching trends.

  28. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Thanks for the tips and the analysis. Luckily in the coaching industry, I have been able to reach my goals and our industry always welcomes new people. Thanks again for the share.

  29. Barry
    Barry says:

    Generational differences are obvious. The question really is, how does each of us respond to our own career reality. I don’t care if you’re 54 or 22, the same motivational package can be contained inside each of you. If you have the energy, focus and drive at 62 I’d like you on my team! If you are 24 and waiting for your ship to come in, get out the shelter you could be there for a while. Of course, the same is true if the ages are reversed!

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