What distinguishes a career activist from other working men and women? And just as important, how is the way a career activist manages their own work experience in the 21st Century different from the way that employers managed the careers of their employees in the 20th Century?
Over the past three weeks, I’ve been answering those questions with a series of posts on the cultural values of a career activist. These values form the ethos—the culture—of career activism, one that both acknowledges and leverages the realities of the modern American workplace. They are not simply a reassembled set of old values, but rather an entirely new way of looking at the purpose of and possibilities in a person’s work and employment.
The first three of these values – a new strategic imperative, a new definition of loyalty, and a new ethical standard – were covered in my last posts. In this post, I’ll explore the fourth and final cultural value of career activism – a new career clock.
In the 20th Century, most working men and women focused on their career just once each year—during their annual performance appraisal and salary review. That habit grew out of the relatively slow pace of change in the 20th Century workplace and the widespread belief that employers would deliver on their promises of job security. Business cycles were unsettling, but their impact—though unpleasant to experience—was never long-lasting and did not change the dynamics of employment. Even when a downturn did affect them, people could count on the world of work returning to “normal” and usually in relatively short order, so there was no need to be concerned about or even pay much attention to their career.
All of that changed with the rise of the global marketplace. Today’s highly integrated and interdependent world economy has made career stability and predictability quaint historical artifacts. At any given moment, a revolutionary new product or service, a game-changing organizational structure or a breakthrough process design can emerge anywhere around the world and impact every other workplace on the planet. A development in Beijing or Copenhagen can, as a result, affect the job market in Boston or Cleveland and do so in a matter of months, not years.
Additionally, the Great Recession produced so much unemployment across so many career fields and industries that millions of American workers now labor and live in a constant state of fear. Although the economy is strengthening, its legacy of disruption is still forcing organizations to fight for their survival, and that struggle leaves even their most dedicated employees exposed and vulnerable. They come to work not knowing if they will have a job, and they go home at night terrified of what might happen while they are out of the office. They may be earning a paycheck, but it is denominated in anxiety.
A Second Job That Pays Out in Pride
The global index of uncertainty may have risen to fearsome heights, but it has not left workers helpless. The nation has not entered a modern Dark Age. Individual Americans are not now hostage to economic forces beyond their control. They are not the hapless pawns of modern capitalism.
America’s workers can protect themselves even in such an unstable and unpredictable environment. They will have to break some old habits, they will also have to learn some new behaviors, but their careers can be made more resilient and better able to withstand the ferment in the today’s and tomorrow’s workplace. Their future—no matter how hopeless it may seem at any given moment—can be recast to offer genuine promise and even prosperity.
Career activists commit themselves to achieving that new vista of American opportunity. In order to do so, however, they must reset their career clock. Instead of attending to their career once a year, they focus on it every day. They counteract the lack of occupational nutrition in the workplace by engaging in a daily supplement of career strengthening behavior. They constantly monitor the status of their career and do whatever they must to preserve and protect its health—day-in, day-out; week-in, week-out; month-in, month-out.
In effect, career activists take a second job, one that pays out in pride. It is not a part-time or weekend appendix to their primary occupation, but a full time and essential role to which they devote the full measure of their talent. Every day, career activists make their best effort to contribute to their employer’s success and to work for the continuous realization of their own success. The former provides a measure of protection in a hostile environment, while the latter advances their personal interests in an economy freshening with opportunities. Together, they create the ideal state for a working person in America’s modern economy.
Career activists know that their employers have changed the rules of the game, so they’ve responded by changing the game itself. They’ve gone from playing football, where they focus exclusively on a single role—either offense or defense—to playing basketball, where they do both. They work in a way that reinforces their security in the present and increases their access to security in the future.
Thanks for reading,
Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at Amazon.com, in many bookstores and on Weddles.com.