A wise man I know (OK, my dad) has a little saying:
“A career is really something you piece together in hindsight.” He is fond of telling me this during our not-infrequent conversations about the nature of work, life, career and the intersection of (and my anxiety around) those factors.
And while I find it hard to resist the social pressure to try and sketch out the next five, 10 or 20 years of my working life, the man has a point. The nature of work is changing rapidly and even though there’s still this pervasive idea that a “career” is some long and narrow road you embark on in your 20s, arriving at the end in your 50s or 60s, that’s just not the way life works anymore — if it ever did.
Case in point: I just started a new job as copy editor at a daily newspaper, and there is no better example of the way in which the nature of careers are changing than that found within the struggling walls of the once-mighty traditional media outlet.
My gig has this oddly paradoxical quality of sounding rather fancy and sophisticated (I should be so lucky to enter the hallowed halls of The Sun each day, and I do feel that way…) but I’m far from having finally “made it” onto my chosen path as many seem to conclude.
On my first day, I walked in to a sea of grey: grey carpets giving rise to grey cubicles inhabited by the mostly grey-haired newsroom lifers. They alternately offered me congratulations and consolations as I was granted security clearance and then watched my newly minted email inbox fill with news of substantial third-quarter losses, offers of buy-outs and yet more “restructuring” in the digital age.
I’m here for a good time, not a long time. But I’m not fazed.
Thing is, unlike the greying boomers that seem either elated or imperiled at the prospect of early retirement — both normal reactions, I suppose, after 40 years at the same cubicle — I’ve never been under any illusions that I’ll be sticking around for decades. Even years. And not just because print publications are dying out, yada, yada, yada, I have felt that way about every job I’ve ever held.
I thought maybe I was just a commitmentphobe but it turns out it’s more likely a generational thing. And now there’s even a name for it: Generation Flux, as outlined in this FastCompany story. Fluxers are those who take the unstable economy and eventual extinction of permanent positions as a positive, looking at every new career opportunity, every new job as a chance to gain experience, amass some skills, make connections and, more likely than not, move on in a few short years. Always with integrity and good intentions, but also always with one eye on the door, window, or heck, even a heating vent for the next opportunity or — in some instances — escape.
I’ve long had this strategy and now I don’t feel like such an iconoclast.
Like my dad, like the GenFluxers, I don’t like the idea of anybody owning me. And, the way business is going (and again I stress that this is all business, not just media — though it is perhaps the canary in the coal mine) I don’t want to get too attached to any one big machines, because when they begin to take on water they do it fast and the casualties are large and brutal indeed.
Am I being disloyal? I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But from where I’m standing it’s the only rational way to approach the situation.
In my interview for my temporary full-time (read: open-ended but insecure) position, the hiring panel asked repeatedly if I was OK with the guaranteed-but-not-really nature of the job. I couldn’t be happier with it.
I see this instability as a tacit agreement between me and my employer: I’ll give you 120 per cent while you have me, but we both know that likely won’t be for very long. You get an engaged and efficient employee and I get to gain new skills, make some connections, and learn a little more about myself, and the world.
Because I am not my job. My talents are multifaceted and my interests myriad. So I’m a journalist — to be specific an assistant city desk editor at the moment. But I’m more than that: I’m a storyteller, a wordsmith, a dancer, a social observer, a creative thinker, a blogger/tweeter/facebooker, a de-facto-tech-savvy Millennial and closet pastry chef with working knowledge of how to execute a tripod headstand. Who knows where those skills will land me in a year?
I like to employ the campsite rule with new employers. That is to say I like to think we try to leave each other in an improved state, a little wiser, a little more nimble, a little more plugged in.
And then we shake hands and part ways and I go see what’s behind the next door, or window, or heating vent.