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Who is in Charge of Their Careers?

A Look at How We Got Here and What to Do About It

It seems like no one knows who is in charge of their career anymore. We go to work each day, but we’re not really sure why we’re there or what we’re supposed to be doing. Our job titles might say one thing, but our responsibilities have changed so much over the years that we don’t even know what to call them anymore. Is this how things are supposed to be? Or is something else going on here?

Where did this all start?

To understand that, we must go back in history a little. Over the past 150 years, the US economy has changed dramatically. We used to be an agrarian society, but now we’re a service-based economy. And as our economy has changed, so have our careers. Today’s workforce is more gender-balanced, more educated, and more diverse than ever before.

In the early days of the US, most people worked on farms or small businesses. They did one job, and they did it for their whole lives. But as the country started to industrialize, people began to move to cities and work in factories. They had to learn new skills, and they had to adapt to a new way of life.

This change continued into the 20th century. More and more people moved out of agriculture and into manufacturing. And then, in the post-World War II years, there was a boom in the service industry. People started working in hospitals, schools, and businesses of all kinds. 

So, what does this history lesson have to do with our careers today?

Simply put, we live in a VUCA world. VUCA is short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, a concept that was first introduced by the military to describe the post-Cold War world. Today, it’s used to describe our ever-changing, fast-paced world.

In a VUCA world, change is the only constant. And that means we have to be in charge of our careers. We can’t rely on our employers to tell us what to do or where to go next. We have to be self-aware and design our own work and life choices.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only made this more apparent. In the past year, we’ve seen businesses close, jobs disappear, and entire industries change overnight. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that we must be prepared for anything.

Ira Wolfe, a prominent commentator, podcast host, and author of “Recruiting in the Age of Googlization: When the Shift Hits Your Plan,” argues that we live in a “never-normal” world where the pandemic has only accelerated the changes that were already happening. He says we must embrace this new world and learn to thrive in it.

“There is no such thing as normal,” he says. “The idea of never normal is so important nowadays because it focuses on adapting and reacting to whatever comes along. We need to be innovative and agile in our approach to change — this is the skillset that will determine success and failure in the years to come.”

When Passion and Design Thinking Meet

The changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, such as the rise of the middle class, increased education levels, and more women entering the workforce, created new opportunities for self-discovery and work/life balance. They also coincided with the emergence of vocational guidance, vocational psychology, and career counseling as formal disciplines.

In the new era, the word “career” took on a new meaning. It was no longer just about what work you did but also about who you were as a person. Your career became an integral part of your identity. Passion became a key ingredient in work/life success.

“Many of us have created lives that give very little support for experimentation,” writes Margaret Wheatley, author and management consultant. “We believe that answers already exist out there, independent of us. What if we invested more time and attention to our own experimentation? We could focus our efforts on discovering solutions that work uniquely for us.”

What if we took a page from history and used design thinking to create our own careers? Design thinking is a process that can be used to solve problems and create new opportunities. It’s about using creative problem-solving to find new ways of doing things. Design thinking starts with self-awareness. What are your values, strengths, and passions? What do you want out of work and life? Once you have a clear understanding of who you are and what you want, you can start to design your own career path.

There are no easy answers in a VUCA world. But if we’re self-aware and use design thinking to create our own careers, we can thrive in this new world where artificial intelligence, automation, and the gig economy are changing the way we work. Every day, jobs are becoming obsolete, and new ones are being created. It’s up to us to stay ahead of the curve and design our own careers. Self-awareness and design thinking can help us do just that.


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