When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and
I told them they didn’t understand life. - John Lennon
They get you when you’re young. It all starts with a seemingly innocent question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You may not have realized it, but this is a trick question. The only valid answer is a career. The implication: You are your career. As adults keep asking us, and we keep answering that we want to be one of these careers, it begins to penetrate. When we finally grow up and someone asks us, “What do you do?” we respond with our career.
What is a career? It can mean a lot of things. Great businesspeople and artists also have careers, but this is not the kind of career that I’m talking about. I am referring to typical careers like that of programmers, teachers and nurses. I use the word “career” to refer to a predetermined path with well-defined rules. When I say “career”, I mean a career where it is clear how to get started, there are guidelines on how to get promoted, and you expect that eventually, you can retire. Most such careers also require that you arrive at work at some approximate time and leave around some preset point about eight hours later. Probably, you have a fixed compensation either per year or per hour, subject to a few percent increase every twelve months or so. I am talking about the types of careers that most of us are pressured into by our parents, because if it is a well-travelled path, then we, too, will be ok if we follow it. Or will we?
Many people are starting to break free from the linear career model worshiped by our parents and grandparents. Many of us today make multiple job-related changes throughout our lives. The ones who can make changes, especially radically changes, are those who manage to free themselves. They are not trapped in a rigid career. They make up their own rules.
Maybe you, too, want to join them. Perhaps you have been feeling for some time now that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on what. Or maybe you know on a deep level that there must be a better way, but you don’t know what that way is. Or maybe, just maybe, you already know what you’d like to do, but you just don’t seem to be able to take the first step. Whatever state you are in, I wrote this guide for you. I wrote it to show you what options are out there for you, and what you can do to reclaim your time, you energy, and consequently gain greater control over your finances, and more importantly, your life.
Rather than bombard you with an enormous article of almost 5000 words, I’ve decided to tame things down and bring this guide to you in 3 parts. In this first part, I will explain why a career is a trap, and why we tend to fall into this trap.
WHY A CAREER IS A TRAP
It forces you into a mold
You are a unique individual. There is nobody quite like you. But that’s not really news, you have known that for a long time. Then why would you think there would be a career mold out there that would fit you just right?
“But this is just a job,” you say. “I can still spend the rest of my time however I like.”
What time? The time when you get home exhausted after work, just to cook, put the kids to bed, and then groggily pick up the remote because watching TV is just about all you have energy for? Or are you referring to your weekends, or the despicably little vacation time we get here in North America? Is it really OK to reduce our life to weekends and a few short weeks of vacation time?
A career asks you to trade your life for a (false) sense of security.
It limits your potential
Careers actually limit our potential. Most standard jobs got it completely backwards: The more productive you are, the less you get paid for what you do. That seems intuitively wrong (as it should), but I will explain why it’s true. Here you are getting the the job done three (or more) times faster than the guy sitting next to you, getting paid the same hourly rate. And what do you get for it? More work. You don’t get paid more, you are getting paid less for each task you complete because you did it faster. Many catch on fast, and reduce their productivity to the average level. Even if you don’t intentionally drop your productivity, you most certainly have little motivation to improve it if you are already more productive than most of your colleagues. Combine all this with the fact that most people aren’t really in love with their work, and you get some some seriously undeveloped potential.
Even if you work hard anyway, in hopes that you’ll get a raise, or a promotion, the increase in salary is laughable, usually between 2%-7%, and you end up with more responsibility, and more work to compensate for having the company pay you a little bit more.
Few of us can reach our potential by following a career path set up by somebody else. If you have ever done anything you were passionate about, in or outside of work, then you already know how much energy passion gives. But when you also get paid for value instead of time, productively reaches a whole new level. (Read Pursue Your Passion for inspirational words on how to have a great career)
Lastly, even money is a poor excuse to stick with a typical career. A career gives you a false sense of security, since never are you as vulnerable as when your livelihood depends on the whims of your employer and the ups and downs of national economics. Even worse, consider all the effort you put into your job. All this time and energy is used to benefit someone else. Instead, you could be using all of your time and energy for you own benefit. Ask yourself this: Would your employer keep you around if they weren’t making a huge margin in profit from your being there?
There is a lot more in you. You can bring so much more value to the world, as well as satisfaction and reward to yourself, if you can break free from the career trap.
WHY DO WE FALL INTO THE CAREER TRAP?
Most of us fall into the career trap simply because it’s the norm. Our grandparents had a career, our parents have/had a career, and everyone is asking us “What are you going to do with your life?” Moreover, we are taught that we should strive to have a career. Having, and even striving towards, a “good” career gives you higher status in the eyes of others.
Many parents push their children towards a “good” career, a safe path that has helped many others to make a comfortable living. These “good” careers are respected by others. If you tell someone that you are, say, an engineer, you are sure to receive a solid look of approval. They might even start treating you with more respect. In short, you get a lot of social approval for having a career.
Another reason that someone may choose to have a career is risk aversion. They want to escape the norm, to follow their hearts and create their own path in life, but they are just too scared. They choose the road well-traveled in order to make sure that they will be ok.
Risk aversion is not the only psychological factor that traps us into a career. Sometimes, we realize that we would like to carve our own path in life only well after we are deep in the career trap. In this case, you’ve already graduated from college, worked for a few years, have a mortgage to pay, and maybe even a kid or two. Getting out of the career trap now would not only take a lot of courage, but it would also entail a lot of change. Fear of change is therefore a strong deterrent from breaking free of the career trap.
A Lack of Awareness of Viable Alternatives
Finally, sometimes we stick with a career simply because we are not aware of any viable alternatives. If this is the case for you, then you will be happy to learn of several such alternatives in Part II.
Now we know about the career trap, and why we fall into it. A question remains: what can we do about it?
The second part of this Guide will focus on presenting to you viable, practical alternatives to the career trap. It will be made available tomorrow, on the 20th of June, 2012. (Now available)
The third, and final part of this guide will focus on breaking through the psychological barriers of the career trap. It will also include a list of resources that can further help you navigate your way out of the career trap. Part III will be available the day after tomorrow, on the 21st of June, 2012. (Now available)