“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“So, what do you do?”
For years, these two questions have intrigued me. They’ve felt discordant with modern life somehow. The reason, I have come to conclude, is that they point to a concept of work that’s dying out — the concept of a “single professional fate”. A notion that you are your job.
Not only is this traditional concept of work disappearing in favor of something much more messy, but I believe our ability to think beyond it is key to finding meaningful, fulfilling and gainful work in the future.
In the coming years, we’re going to experience more “careers” than any previous generation, as a growth in fulfillment-seekers means highway-hopping becomes the norm. Meanwhile, we have within arm’s reach a growing and dazzling array of new potential career options. So, while we may not know exactly what the future world of work has in store for us, it seems clear that a finite number of predictable, well-trodden paths of employment that last a lifetime … are almost certainly not it.
Instead, we are entering the workforce of the future, where career highways shorten, explode in number and fade in and out over time. In this world, rather than a series of clear paths, these highways form a sort of mess. Or, to me — a wilderness.
In the wilderness, the game changes completely.
So, here are five traits that I believe we need in order to thrive in this new world of work, yielded from the years I have grappled with this topic myself.
1. Audacious goals.
We’re all used to professional goals, right? Well, now it’s time to set personal goals. They define what success means to you and give you your “North Star” in the wilderness. That means they’re not about money, seniority or title. And you can’t inherit them from your boss. Instead, consider this: What do you want to do with your time? Also, consider the intersection between what the world finds valuable and what you love to do. If you can identify how you wish to spend your time within that intersection, you’ve found a clear guide for the wilderness.
But these goals can’t be ordinary. In a world where you can build and become almost anything you can imagine, you can’t let your imagination be the limit. Audacious goals are key to ensuring that your North Star is bold enough to navigate and motivate you at every stage on your personal crusade. Start pushing yourself to think about dreams that delight you and make you grin from ear to ear. After all, as it’s been said, the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. Right?
The concept of flow comes from an actual neurological state identified by researchers that describes an optimal state of consciousness where all aspects of performance go through the roof. (For example, it’s the state artists like improv musicians and free-style rappers enter when they’re delivering a live performance.) During these peak moments of total absorption, self vanishes, time flies and the brain is intensely creative and productive. Ideas flow freely and easily.
Artists describe their time in this state not like work, but simply as pleasure. While we are not all improv musicians or freestyle rappers, I do believe there is a flow state for all of us. The trick in the wilderness is finding your flow and understanding it. For if we know our flow, then we can use it as a sort of compass on a daily basis to make decisions that take us toward, and not away from, more fulfilling and meaningful work.
On the highway, we tend to look externally for confirmation of our progress — a new job title or a pay increase, perhaps. But those measures don’t cut it in the wilderness. They provide a misleading, false sense of security. Instead, in the wilderness, we need to regularly pause to take personal stock of our location and the progress toward our North Star. To achieve this, we must juggle two contrary perspectives:
Our wolf: This is the perspective we carry with us on a daily basis. It’s aware of our immediate surroundings and protects us from them. It aims to increase pleasure and remove pain. Our wolf is narrow-minded and aggressively effective in solving immediate challenges around us.
Our eagle: This is the perspective that zooms out. It sees a more long-term path and considers the macro situation. It is concerned with your progress and journey toward your audacious goals. Unlike your wolf, your eagle is concerned with increasing a sense of purpose and meaning.
This concept isn’t new, of course, but the challenge is striking a regular balance and creating a blended perspective somewhere in between the two. Try scheduling regular reviews of progress toward your audacious goals or meeting with mentors who provoke you.
Grit is not just about persistence; it’s actually one part determination and one part ingenuity. Grit, in the wilderness, could be explained as perseverance as we strive for our imagined future.
One of the first and most significant hurdles in establishing grit is the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. In the wilderness, the latter is the very basis of your personal drive and motivation. It marks a shift from working hard because some external authority mandates or rewards it, to working hard because you want to. Grit is a hardening of your intrinsic motivation and developing it into a tool that brings you energy and persistence through the tough and tumultuous times ahead.
All those who thrive in the wilderness possess what those on the highway would consider to be an almost sickening amount of self-belief, an internal confidence that what we are doing or pursuing is right and true. When the world squints at your necessarily unprecedented choices, it’s this self-belief that empowers you to resist the urge to doubt yourself and resist returning to the highway.
Your intrinsic motivation and self-belief together form the grit that drives you in the wilderness.
In the past, it was possible for graduates to pick a profession and expect to benefit from a lifetime of employment from it. (If they played their cards right, that is.) In the wilderness, such security is a luxury. The expected lifespan of any career highway that you choose is shrinking rapidly. We must embrace a notion of professional curiosity and constantly and proactively seek out new and tangential skills that help to mitigate the possible demise of your current work.
Finally, employers must consider how to help a workforce grappling with these issues. At Fjord and Accenture, I’m pleased to say we are already actively embracing these conversations and tackling these challenges with open minds and innovative approaches to performance assessment, skills development and career progression.
With a major focus on continuous learning to provide an authentic understanding of the skills people need to stay relevant and succeed, Accenture is “leaning in” to this challenge. We’re reshaping the future workforce and encouraging our people to fulfill their ambitions and dreams, building more flexible, adaptable career paths along the way. Here, Chief Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook shares her thoughts on the importance of investing in Accenture’s most vital asset—our people.
In the end, if you’re going to take one thing from this ramble, let it be this: Simply embrace the wilderness. Build on some of these skills. Lean in. It’s your key to finding fulfilling, meaningful and perhaps even gainful work in the future.
Find an opportunity with Accenture and thrive in the new world of work.
This post excerpt was originally posted on Medium. Read here for the full version.
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