My dad has worked for the same company for the last 30 years. I’m in my mid-twenties and have never had a real job, at least not the kind with a salary and a pension plan. Instead I’ve collected a long list of internships, part-time positions and a couple of degrees. I’ve never had to wear a tie to work, but then again I’ve never had the opportunity to get smashed and embarrass myself at a Christmas party. Gone are the days of the traditional career path, a gradual rise up the corporate ladder that ends in a comfortable retirement. The average person now changes jobs 10 to 15 times during their life.
On the face of it, this kind of instability is bloody scary. And yeah, sometimes I panic when I think about my professional future. Then again I panic when I think about the future of coral reefs, and artificial intelligence, and nuclear war, and just about everything. The future is terrifying.
Collaborative working environments
I’m often asked about this elusive “proper job” and when I’m going to get one. I’m not sure I want one, and I’m even less sure they still exist. While a lot of people still do stay with one company for years it’s no longer an aspiration for most young people.
Technological innovation has dramatically cut the number of employees at most companies and also made it easier for people to launch their own startups. This has led to an end to the hierarchical model of employment where it’s possible to rise up the ranks of a corporation with a promotion every couple of years.
Companies are smaller but they are also structured more innovatively. It’s now possible to enter a company and very quickly find yourself with a high level of responsibility. This means working in a more collaborative environment because there are no longer a hundred employees above you but a handful at a similar level. Instead of moving upward we now move sideways, finding new roles that fit our skill sets rather than being promoted into positions that no longer match our talents.
Discovering work you love
Having a vague internet job has become just as much of a millennial cliché as our flexible attitude to gender and our deifying of the avocado. For a lot of us having two or three part-time and remote jobs has just as much to do with an unwillingness of companies to offer real employment as it has to do with any entitled desire to follow our “true calling.”
Having said that it is true that millennials are generally less interested in financial success than previous generations and are more concerned with making a difference, and spiritual fulfilment, and other ideas that will make the cynics amongst you roll your eyes with dangerous enthusiasm.
With less pressure and personal status resting on our pay cheques it’s easier than ever to find work we really care about. We have the opportunity now, perhaps for the first time in history, to try on multiple hats and find one that fits perfectly while learning a whole bunch of new skills in the process. And only knobheads will judge you for the part time retail gig you do to make ends meet. Most people will understand that’s how you’re able to also pursue the thing you love, whether it’s erotic embroidery or breeding snakes to look like Stormtroopers (both real examples).
The most obvious perk of the change in the way we now work is the freedom that comes with it. 15% of all people in work in the UK are now freelancers, and the last few years has seen the inevitable rise of the digital nomad. That girl or guy typing away on a laptop in the corner of a coffee shop anywhere from Berlin to Bali. They have job titles that 10 years ago would have sounded like the discarded notes for one of Kurt Vonnegut’s less plausible sci-fi novels. “Cloud computing specialist” and “data miner”.
The drawback of this flexible lifestyle is constant uncertainty. At least that’s the assumption. But all this freelancing and flitting from one job to another every few years can also feel empowering. In my experience at least, being in control of my own future and deciding exactly when and how I work takes away a lot of the anxiety around money and career progression. Then again I’ve never known anything else. I do know that the old career path is gone and that we can lament the fact that the rules have changed, or we can embrace chaos, and use it as an opportunity to carve out our own unique paths to success.