A recent article in The Globe and Mail, Is the ‘career’ dead? by Stacy Lee Kong got me thinking. Kong presents a case for reconsidering the meaning of a career in today’s fast-changing world. What we once referred to as the career ladder can now be called the career jungle gymn. Instead of landing a secure job with an established employer (or two) and moving up within that organization for the remainder of your working days, young people now move sideways, backward, up, down, and around every two or three years.
Whether they change companies or work the gig economy as independent contractors, today’s workforce no longer enjoys job security or benefits like supplementary health coverage and pension plans—unless they’re in a highly-unionized organization. This constant adjustment requires agility to ensure they are being paid as much as possible to offset the cushy benefits that are no longer available to the general workforce.
This brings up the important issue of loyalty which is no longer part of the employee vocabulary. In fact, by the end of my career, I was also questioning the value of loyalty. The stress, long hours and sacrifices boomers made for their ‘careers’ over the years came with little reward. Perhaps that’s why our generation was so relieved to retire. Our dues-paying years were over.
It’s a step forward for humanity that current young workers are insisting on more recognition of a peronal life. It has been a long and exhausting evolution since the days of the industrial revolution to today’s work environment. What began with the efforts of trade unions in improving working conditions has now reached unimaginable objectives with flexible working hours and working from home options.
The gains have come at a price, however. Where employers were once obliged to provide a job for life and a comfy pension at the end, they now offer contract work with no benefits. With the loss of security and benefits goes loyalty and sacrifice.
One of the greatest lessons I learned during my working life and life in general was “Take care of yourself first”. That mindset seems to come naturally to men but women were conditioned to put others first, at our peril. We gave our all to our jobs, then came home and tried to give whatever was left to our families and personal life.
Sheryl Sandberg did working women a great injustice with her 2013 book Lean In, Work And The Will To Lead which I read with fascination . While I agreed with much of her experience as a woman in business, there was so much that most of us could not relate to. As a privileged, married white woman with a superior education and advantages like access to private jets, she urged all women to commit to their jobs, hire nannies and make their mark in the world. Then, when the reality of menopause hit Sandberg, she became a human being again, one of us. She dropped out of the corporate world. Hah! Told ya’ so, told ya’ so!
Once we’re in our fifties, our priorities shift dramatically. Not only do we no longer have the same energy, motivation, or ambition we once did, we are hit with the reality of a finite life expectancy and the diminishing resource of time to take care of what is truly important to our authentic selves and our personal lives. With families grown and on their own, we regroup.
I’m relieved that I’m not struggling with job-hopping to keep myself afloat while trying to have a personal life. As an old-school boomer, I had very few jobs over my ‘career’. I expected and received a degree of job security and the associated benefits for being a good employee. But, we paid a price. Perhaps that is why we’re loving retirement so much.
We worked hard; we paid off our mortgages; we saved a few dollars over the years and those of us who do not have a company pension to fall back on (I’m one of them) we at least have some RRSPs, or other investments and savings to keep the wolf away. And, when we have to sell those over-priced homes we spent our entire working lives paying for, we should have enough money to score a private room in the home for the duration.
It wasn’t easy for boomers either. We had our share of challenges, including 18% interest rates in the 70s, and now we can finally relax. We appreciate being able to get our generic drugs for a minimal dispensary fee and annual $100.00 seniors’ surcharge. We still have to pay full pop for our hearing aids, eye glasses, dental bills, etc. but at least we’re out of the rat race. No more working late nights or weekends. No more career climbing and no more commuting. And for those blessings, we are truly grateful.
The Globe and Mail article referred to at the beginning of this post opened by describing a particular young person’s career struggles: “But now, they’re 26, they’ve already had to take time off because of burnout and they’re not sure work is as exciting or important, as they once thought.”
OMG! Even after sorting out the gender pronoun issue, that statement offends me on so many levels. Burnout after only perhaps four or five years in the workforce? I think young people have been seriously led astray by the misguided advice to “do what you love, the money will come, and you will live happily ever after,” without actually working.
That is a fairy tale, not real life. Very few of us can make a living and support a family by snowboarding, painting water colours, playing video games or acoustic guitar. I’ve held jobs since I was eight years old (when I was part-time dispatcher for our family’s taxi business) so I have more than 68 years of experience in the working world. That’s long enough to know that doing what you love is a brass ring very few people can reach in the real world. If you manage to like your job or perhaps even enjoy it, you’re one of the few lucky ones.
Not everyone will agree with me but I am of the opinion that your job is not your life. Working is a means to an end—survival. Experiences, relationships, friendships, and family are the true measure and merit of a meaningful life. Boomers learned that a bit late but the younger generations took notice and are trying to rework the system to better balance work and life. I am just thankful I’m old and do not have to deal with trying to negotiate the career jungle gymn. Who wants their tombstone to read “She Was A Good and Loyal Employee”?
If you’ve managed to read this far, you will agree that both of these last-minute thoughts (gender pronouns and do what you love) are topics for further discussion but I’ve kept you here long enough. You’ve been very patient. Open that box of wine, pour yourself a glass, and go enjoy being retired. You’ve earned it. Being old has a lot of advantages doesn’t it?
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