A career is something my parents’ generation has. Not for us thirtysomethings.
(Yes, I am six months into 30 and am still not used to that number. Wasn’t I just a twentysomething writing my Quarterlife Lessons column footloose and fancy free? Oh no, I am using old-fashioned terms, a sure sign of my advanced age.)
Our generation doesn’t have careers. How could we? We were raised being told we could do whatever we set our mind to and with a little effort we could have limitless opportunities.
We grew up in the age of the Internet and instant gratification. We chose from dozens of colleges, hundred of classes and tested a handful of majors before settling on something that resonated with us and that excited us, not just a fruitful job path.
Instead of majoring in something of use to society and to fill gaps in the workforce, we got to choose what we wanted to study and our career. (I joke that I wish my parents had sent me to a trade school and suggested I major in HVAC. I’d be making four times as much with zero student loan debt. The only fat stacks I am sitting on are old tattered paperbacks from my English-major days, not piles of hundred dollar bills. Clearly, now, the joke is on me.)
For us twenty and thirtysomethings, no longer is it just a job or paycheck or even a career. Now we are picking a direction for our life intrinsically tied to who we are. That is supposed to fulfill us emotionally, spiritually and financially.
So what happens post-grad and deep into the real world when we are dissatisfied? Maybe what we are passionate about doesn’t pay the bills? Maybe deciding on your life’s path at 18 isn’t going to hold up at 30? Or maybe seeing what your peers are talking about on social media in terms of their jobs, happiness and success, creates instant insecurity and doubt.
It’s OK. This is the positive thing about our generation: After being told we can do anything and having so much to choose from, we believe in ourselves unconditionally, adapt and move forward.
With so many of us college educated, we have critical-thinking skills and immersed ourselves in different courses, cultures, communities and experiences. While some walk away with impractical majors and enough debt for the rest of their lives, the bigger takeaway is that we learned always to ask why and how, and to question everything. And being told the sky is the limit all our lives, we believe it.
Our generation is composed of people who believe one person can create a meaningful difference and that we have the power to create our dream jobs, fulfill our destiny or just have a job to pay the bills. No mention of a career in sight.
Careers are out and skills and job flexibility is in.
For our generation, it’s more about experiences that are fluid and can be translated to our next job.
In today’s ever-changing, fast-moving job market, the most successful worker can adapt. One day you have a job and the next day your position has been eliminated. Nothing is guaranteed and loyalty doesn’t matter like it used to. There’s been a cultural shift in the workplace. I know several friends who have worked hard and walked into work one day to find a note and the doors boarded up.
And having smartphones, email and laptops mean that 9-5 is more like 24/7. Every aspect of our lives is moving quickly, yet everything is still at our fingertips and control.
So having a career for the rest of our lives isn’t so realistic. Instead, it’s more of a bob and weave and a constant pivot between jobs and experiences that fulfill us at that moment. Whether the priority at the time is making money, having a family, being of service or following our interests and passions, our generation is changing how we look at a career, or lack thereof. Nothing is viewed as forever and we keep on believing we can do anything.
It’s an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking time for our generation. And for our parents, who probably wish career wasn’t such a dirty word.