I was listening to a podcast the other day while I was working on a quilt and this woman was talking about her career journey. She described it as a zig zag pattern instead of a clear path to the top where she was now. It wasn’t easy she said but then it also wasn’t her goal to end up where she was today. She simply wanted to survive so she could pay her bills and stay employed. It paid off for her as she was now a top leader in this company having worked up from answering phones some 20 years ago. She is one of the lucky ones perhaps?
Her story resonated with me because I too see my career path as a zig zag scattered with a few craters I’ve fallen into. I have been at the top senior roles and I have taken a step down from that. It’s not as glamorous or easy as it looks at any level, especially the top. The part though that really hit me was she too was simply trying to survive, take care of your financial needs and keep a job. These days there is no right way to do that it seems since so many of the decisions impacting our employment are out of our hands.
The thing is I don’t know that the feeling of insecurity in your job’s future ever goes away at any level you are working. It is not easy to navigate the corporate landscape and stay in front of everything that could impact you. Also, most of the decisions are out of your hands anyway. There is not a simple path to relying on a job for your livelihood and that’s about as honest as it gets. Sometimes we get lucky at least for a while and others we scramble and hustle to keep things going for ourselves.
More than anything I think the corporate environment is one of extreme Hunger Games like sporting where it truly becomes survival of the fittest. Even then something may happen but there really is no such thing as just going to work and doing your job. With the growing number of companies trying to herd people back into the office I think this movement may finally be the event we need to gain back some of our power in this situation too.
The pandemic proved working from home for the majority of jobs is not only possible but productive. It was figured out and it kept commerce, profit and even growth going. It also reduced some of the nonsense that happens in the office that cause the stress, anxiety and burnout. We have been able to take more of our life back through this experience in the way of dictating the hours we work with flexibility to care for our families and establish more of that precious work-life balance structure. We have made it work to our favor.
When it comes to leveraging that to reclaim not only our personal lives but our career paths I think it comes down to what we are no longer willing to give up. Our employers take a great deal from us including our independence to work in a way that is healthy for us. Yes, most companies have a wellness program but when was the last time you even had a real lunch break to even do that? Yeah, me either. So most of the programs promoted for our well-being and concern for our health are bogus.
The simple truth is most of our career paths are zig zag patterns of up and down cycles we have endured as a result of corporate jerks who make poor decisions and don’t know how to lead. We wrap ourselves deep into our jobs thinking if we only give more of our time, energy and focus it will pay off. Sometimes it will, maybe decades later it will if we are lucky. In the meantime we give up time with our families, working flexibility to care for our needs, the ability to work where it is productive for us to work and our independence to define what that looks like.
The one thing I think we can learn from manufacturing unions is it took an uprising and collective bargaining to regain some semblance of balance in the relationships we have with our employers. Granted unions have since become their own problem in many cases but the point is we saw people come together against the bullying of companies to establish a better worker situation that protected careers, pay and gave us some financial protections. We say stabilization of worker lives so they could invest in their future and have a voice in getting their needs met in the partnership of their employment. Perhaps this Great Resignation period we are entering in 2021 will bring back that spirit at least.
I think the reason most jobs only last 2 to 4 years these days is because we have been lacking in the voice we need to protect our relationships at work. I’m not proposing bringing back unions but I’m saying work should be a little more simple and straight in it’s path between us and our employers. It should not take a masters in navigating political drama to succeed and establish what we need from our jobs. Yes, we trade our time and energy for money in these situations but it’s time corporations who promote cultural values, wellness programs and concern for our well-being actually act on it rather than just express these things as novel ideas.
For the people who have risen to the top, I know the sacrifices you made to accomplish that. Please use your influence, power and more to fix the things you know are not right in your company. Make it better for others to success, protect their futures and actually feel like they are at the right company for longer than 2 to 4 years. For those that are not at the top, it’s time to stand up for ourselves and bring back the balance to work-life living and actually look after our well-being.
Nothing about working is simple or straight in our careers. It can have its rewards certainly but it also takes more than it gives most of the time. Now that we have emerged from this pandemic let’s use this opportunity to reset the boundaries of what it means to work in corporations and stop punishing ourselves thinking we have to take what is served. It is time to live more naturally at work and enrich the path balancing our lives.
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