John Maxwell said “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” Tony Robbins’ version is “Change is inevitable; progress is optional.” Either way, the world and the economic environment are changing more rapidly, more suddenly, and more dramatically than ever before.
If you are choosing a career, how then do you consider the question of sustainability? You love what you do, or what you think you want to do, but what about the future of whatever career or careers that might represent?
I don’t know the answer, and the horizon on answers about the future is shorter than it used to be. Five-year plans are probably really three-year plans, and in some cases they become obsolete faster than that, depending on the industry and region of the world.
Drama aside, you still have to make decisions. Here are some things to think about.
- What is it that you really like about work itself? Identify the elements and contours of the attractors inherent in the career or job you sought or are seeking. Are they sustainable into the future of the job you declared for? Or are they obsolescence-bound? For example, face to face contact has succumbed to FaceTime and Skype, travel as a job feature is fast coming off the table, and as well we know, news reporting is more entertainment than journalism, no matter the medium.
- What is your risk/reward tolerance? Jobs with substantial paychecks most often involve higher risk: sales, scarcity of resources, specialization, geographic undesirability, start-ups, long and painful hours, immense emotional burden. Jobs with less risk pay less and will likely continue to throughout your career. You can budget risk; many people choose high risk situations early in a career, where the risk of failure is presumable more tolerable, and where high rewards can lead to a broader range of future choices. Choosing wisely early can be a hedge against future change.
- Are you able to stay current in your field? Often, change sneaks up on you, and there you are, using language suitable for the last millennium and talking about irrelevant matters in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, people notice when you haven’t kept up with the times and your own professional development.
- Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? The current career popularity contest is producing STEM winners, so anything science, technology, engineering and math is open for business. A word of caution: shortages lead to overabundance, and it doesn’t take that long. So if you heard that a specific job (ceramic widgets engineer level three, for example) is making megazillions, know that that job has a boss who supervises lots of cweL3’s and has a PhD in management. Generalizing may lead to the more sustainable path in the end. But you don’t really know.
- Do you have the genes of an Entrepreneur? If you do, you may have the most choices (but we are back to that risk/reward thing). It’s hard to know until you leap into the volcano if volcano-leaping is for you. starting and managing your own business can be satisfying or it can be lonely or it can be both. Depending on the business itself, it may be either sustainable (at the right scale) or salable enough to allow you a handful of future choices.
- Are you considering a profession that requires extensive education and a license at the end of the education road? Doctors, Lawyers, Architects, Pharmacists, Ministers, Teachers, Veterinarians are pretty sustainable careers, but the compensation is all over the map and rises and falls with the tides. You can almost always work, but you may not always be able to bank. Teachers and Veterinarians will tell you that you really have to love the work itself; it’s a lifestyle as much as a career. And–very important–before you invest in the very expensive education you are contemplating, know where pay in the profession is heading
- What does the world really need? To the 3 circle diagram my husband loves (what do love to do, what are you good at, and what will people pay you for), I always add: think about what the world needs, or at least what your corner of it needs more of.
I am crazy about Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, Parts Unknown. One of his dinner companions–I think it was in Shanghai–pointed out that with a world population of more than 7 billion (and of course those are not all people of working age wherever they are) it is conceivable that economically speaking, for purposes of production, we do not need as many people working as we have in the past. One of our human challenges of the future will be to develop a solution to the puzzle of productivity–that as we become more efficient as a society, we eliminate jobs, careers, and economic platforms.
Change, meanwhile, marches on.