First of all, the concept of work itself is changing. Boundaries aren’t as clear, but that means more options and flexibility than ever before. Socially minded-businesses are established “not only for profit”, companies are collaborating internally and externally, and new definitions of work arrangements are emerging with the “gig economy”. We are no longer necessarily bound to one career or one job in one company. You may be working for someone else, starting your own enterprise, or even working on several different things at once. Opportunities to experiment with your career abound.
With these in mind, you don’t have to see your career in the long-established analogy of “climbing the ladder” and attaining job titles. Instead, think about it as all about collecting meaningful experiences that enhance your development and your life. With that framing, first consider what’s most important according to your own ambitions and in what environment and then seek the endeavors that might align with that, if only for now. Nothing is set in stone forever, but you want to make the most of your time and energy. Make decisions and be open to changes, all with purpose in mind.
This leaves lots of room for you to forge your own path, one that is as unique as you are. In other words, know that there is no one way to do anything, no formula that is failsafe. This requires you to stay self-aware and true to yourself. Utilize your talents, constantly learn new things, and share and collaborate with others for the greater good. Combine traditional and non-traditional ways of collecting those experiences and doing meaningful work. Establish, cultivate, and grow your network to enable you to get help and to help others.
Don’t forget to manage who you are and who you aspire to be. Yes, work is a large part of life and it enables our livelihoods, but you are so much more than that. Avoid defining yourself primarily or solely by your work, because your career will experience curveballs and you don’t want to throw in an identity crisis in the middle of it. Trust me, I’ve seen that happen. Make your sense of self the one constant in life. That means everything is as fulfilling to you both in and outside of your work. True, you have lots of energy and are willing to do what it takes for career success, but seeing (and living) beyond work ensures you won’t burn out. You still have “lots of runway” as they say. Work hard, but pace yourself.
For everyone else, three things: one, understand that new graduates are entering a different version of the world than we first encountered. Imposing rigidity, even with good intentions, won’t be helpful to the young people in your life. Instead, be a supportive sounding board. Offer your wisdom considering today’s context. Be collaborative, and learn from each other. Second, think about this new generation of workers as you design and manage your work cultures, environments, and experiences. How will you integrate and leverage the talents of multiple generations in your workplace? If you aren’t sure, ask me how. And third, it’s not too late to see your own careers in a different light. The same choices new graduates have are still available to you, no matter your life stage. The only constraints you have are those that you impose on yourself.
5/22 Update: Many thanks to Thought Catalog for publishing this post on their website!