Forty years ago, we had expectations about work. A contract of sorts. This contract said, if I pass the test, get into the right school, get the right degree, get a good job, and work hard, I can expect to be taken care of and retire comfortably. In exchange, we accepted that we weren’t always going to love what we did, were going to have to put up with some crap, and we wouldn’t always have control over what came next.
Fast forward to today. Doing well on the test just might get you into the right college, but in terms of guarantees, that’s where it stops. The right school or even the right degree no longer guarantees a job. Working hard is still important, but does not protect you from your industry evaporating. And being taken care of, retiring comfortably, we can generally put those in the category of wishful thinking with the oft volatility of the stock market.
And here’s where the anxiety comes in. Not simply from realizing things have changed, but in not changing our approach to the change itself. Anger, frustration, anxiety and other responses take root when our expectations don’t match reality. The economy has changed but our expectations haven’t.
The average job only lasts three years but we still like to talk about choosing a “career” at the interview. You expect the job will last forever, and when it doesn’t, you get anxiety as the wonderful parting gift. You expect to be taken care of if you work hard, and when it doesn’t happen, what you reap is that feeling in the pit of your stomach. You plan for that degree to land you that awesome gig, only to angrily stare at the piece of paper on the wall that represents courses you didn’t want to take in the first place and only guaranteed you student loan debt.
These expectations not being met make us start to feel unsure about ourselves, question our own decisions, and seek to quell the feeling in the exact manner through which we created it…find another position, hope someone else with take care of that. Or get some certification or degree that we hope someone else will find value-able.
But that is a fools errand. To change the outcome, we have to change the expectation. Like any anxiety or fear, our power always rests on the other side, when we step into it, when we use it to see our true potential. We can do that in how we look for jobs, how we approach professional development, and how we become “taken care of.”
If you are looking for a job, or know you will be in the future, instead of spending time trying to figure out what others want, get to know what you are a freakin super hero at, and find the places, companies, or organizations you know will benefit from your skillset. Be one step in front, know how you can change a company, change a position, or bring value…then, when you go into the job, you expect to interview them as much as they are interviewing you.
Stop looking for the degree or certification you are “supposed” to get. Focus your professional development on what most engages you, what you are authentically curious about, or simply what you don’t have to drag yourself out of bed to learn. If you are interested in it, you are inherently going to learn things, see patterns, and see solutions that other people cannot because they simply don’t care…that interest from you is what makes the learning actually valuable.
And, as far as being “taken care of.” Know what that means. What life or lifestyle do you actually want. How much of your day or life is filled with things you are doing because that’s just what you do? Most people create lifestyles they don’t actually like, and can’t actually afford, because it was supposed to be the pay-off for having jobs that sucked. When you do things you like, you realize you don’t need nearly as much of the “stuff” you don’t, and taking care of yourself becomes much simpler.
What we fear is our own power. What scares you is that you might just be as kick-ass awesome as you think. There was a time when we could quell these fears through certainty that others provided in work we didn’t like, but that took care of us. Those days are gone.
And, if you change your expectations. Expect your job security to come from your unique talents, expect your value to come from your innate curiosity, and expect your certainty to come for the purposeful way you have designed your own life. Then you might just find that your expectations of work better match your reality.