By Greg Olson, M.A.
For many, the passing of the New Year is a time to look ahead to the next twelve months with new resolutions, goals and plans. What if you thought ahead further? Try imagining yourself five or ten years from now. . . . What do you see yourself doing? If you’re like most Canadians, chances are you won’t be doing the same work you’re engaged in now. Research indicates that Canadians currently average five to seven major career shifts in their lifetimes and stay in any one job only three to five years.
What an enormous shift from, 50 years ago when the oldest of today’s baby boomers began being born! Recent market trends reveal a dramatically altered career landscape. Whereas those who are now approaching retirement were able to expect their careers would unfold in primarily one place, those now entering or in the early stages of their careers can expect only one thing change. Unpredictable international economies, technological advances requiring increasingly specialized knowledge, and cost-cutting measures including downsizing and streamlining of businesses are just a few of the many factors creating an impact.
Where does this leave those of us who still have “miles to go” before or after retiring?
First, we could benefit from adopting an ancient perspective that viewed crisis as “dangerous opportunities”. Easier said than done. Vocational transitions are difficult, often spawning a torrent of questions: “Who am I? What am I good at? What do I like? Who would want me? How am I going to pay the car insurance (food bill, mortgage . . .) next month? What will people think if they learn I quit or lost my job?”
In spite of the admittedly frightening nature of asking these questions, career changes, like crisis in general, can truly be dangerous opportunities. If we confront the fears associated with change, we get to learn more about our own interests, values and strengths. We are forced to do an inventory of our goals, plans and dreams and evaluate whether or not we are on track. In the process, our vision of life can become more focused.
A wise old teacher of mine once posed the question, “Imagine you have a home with a good view. What makes up having a good view?” He noted that to have a good view, there must be at least three components: a foreground, middle ground, and background. A person with a good view on the North Shore, then, might have a nice garden in the foreground, a view of the city in the middle ground, and a view of the ocean in the distance.
What about having a good view when it comes to career? Many of us have only a good foreground to look at. We know what we are doing in the present, but cannot see beyond that. In this state we can become too easily discouraged, anxious, bored or apathetic when our jobs are not going well. Our lives can begin to feel like a day-to-day grind filled with anxiety, and we may start living for the weekend.
Others of us have good middle grounds. We aim to graduate in two years, retire in five years, go to Europe in eight months, but we lack a good background to help put the middle ground into focus. I have counselled clients who once felt motivated and focused, but not having an ocean in the background as a kind of compass, lost their sense of direction or distance, and got off track without even being aware of it. Working five years to pay down the mortgage turned into fifteen. And when the middle-ground goal was eventually attained, they felt as lost as ever. One top executive said to me, “I made it to the highest rung on the ladder, but the ladder was leaning against the wrong building”.
Finally, some of us have a strong sense of the background, but a thick fog covers the fore and middle ground, creating another potentially problematic situation in terms of throwing off perspective. I hear too often in my work with couples one partner telling the other, “Just hang in there for a couple more years of me working 14-hour days, and then our family will be set financially forever.” Often when the magic then arrives, there is no family left. The fore and middle ground got lost in the focus on the ocean in the distance.
Before the newness of this new year wears off, you might take time to reflect on your own career view, checking out one, two or all three components of your view. Some questions you might ask yourself are:
Your answers may help you to tap into some of your lifelong yearnings and passions.