Matching careers to lifestyles, not the other way around.
Something quite profound occurred to me today after having one of those ‘what are we doing with our lives’ conversations with two of my colleagues whilst paddle boarding after work. What was interesting to discover was that we’ve all decided on the kind of lifestyle we want to lead. Now we just need to find the career to match.
It’s taken me almost 33 years to realise I’ve approached this the other way around. Choosing a career or a job and then discovering the lifestyle my profession allowed me once I was in it (and that’s after spending years at university and thousands of dollars on a degree). Shouldn’t we be looking at this in reverse?
I read a great article by Mark Manson recently (who I discovered a year ago after Googling ‘the meaning of life’), called Screw Finding Your Passion. It pointed out some very obvious yet original ideas about determining what the hell we like doing, and at the same time not expecting that every aspect of our dream job will be enjoyable or satisfying. He makes a good point that our generation feels entitled to find meaning and satisfaction in absolutely everything we do, paid or not, and from my own personal experience I tend to agree. But I also believe that when it comes to choosing a career, we assess the merits of the work involved, without always considering the realities of the lifestyle attached.
No one ever told me back at my career day in high school that I could make a very decent living doing freelance event work. I didn’t even know planning events was considered a profession or what a freelancer actually was. But if someone had told me freelance event work would mean working 15 hour days plus weekends, a reduction in personal fitness, possible stress on relationships or no relationships at all, eating badly and burning out after 10 years in addition to the experience of travelling to multiple countries, dining with world leaders or carrying the Olympic Flame; I would have been able to make a better assessment of how long I could see the perks of that profession working for me.
It occurred to me today that kids should be studying lifestyles in school. Finding examples or case studies of the people who are living the kind of life they wish to lead, and then learning how they got there. I’m not just talking about the 50-year-old retired founder of something-or-other who owns a sailing boat, multiple houses and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico (unless you’re prepared to put in as much work as they did). I’m talking about the 50-year-old who lives a humble lifestyle working three days a week, is happily married, in impeccable shape, takes the kids on camping trips and sells beeswax candles at a local market every second Saturday during the summer.
What kind of lifestyle can one expect if they decide to become a civil rights lawyer, a surgeon or an architect? What sorts of lifestyles are on offer? Instead of dissecting mice in biology, we should be picking apart peoples lives and deciding which parts we want to mimic and which aspects to discard. Students should be given class time to search for their lifestyle idols (outside of their sporting or musical heroes). People who are living in the manner they want to live, to learn real lessons about how to make that reality theirs.
I can remember at a career session in year 10 sitting in front of an old desktop computer filling in a lengthy questionnaire about things I liked doing and what I was good at. The software then ran the answers through a basic algorithm and spat out my recommended career path. I’m pretty sure it suggested advertising, but I guess the test didn’t uncover that I despise consumerism, only shop at Thrift Stores and don’t own a TV. It’s funny though because I did end up making commercials after studying TV production at university, and I completed that degree because I’d auditioned for an acting school and got denied and figured the next best thing was working on the other side of the camera.
It’s amazing the career tangents I’ve found myself on since then, because either the offer was there, the pay was good, or I had the right skills for the job. Despite having one of the most exciting careers by the age of 30, it’s terrifying to think how many times I’ve avoided doing what I wanted to because it either seemed too hard, I was scared of success, or because something else distracted me. It’s also true that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I needed to live and experience many things before I really figured it out. But I’ve also known for a long time that I wanted to work for myself, be able to travel for work or work while I travel, write, take videos and explore. None of the jobs I’ve worked up until this point have really steered me in that direction, and it’s only now that I’ve started working part time to gain a better understanding of what makes me happy, that I’ve had the time to spend doing those things that I love.
When I finished high school no one told me that, A: I’d be completely overwhelmed as though I’d just left my mother’s womb. B: I’d want to quit my university degree at least once. And C: I’d likely discover that my university degree had nothing to do with what I’d actually be doing. I guess I should have asked myself some very basic questions when deciding on a career path. Do I want a profession that is conducive to spending time with family, allows me to go surfing on weekends and maintain my organic vegetable garden? Or do I want a job that’s going to take me to a new country every 30 days, allowing me to fly business class and eat the free food in the airport lounges? Most of us want both; the later option when we’re young and single and have nothing tying us down, and the former option when we get a little older and start thinking about having a family. So shouldn’t we be preparing for both? If people knew before jumping into a profession that the burn out rate is 90% after 10 years, they could at least prepare for this before finding themselves worn out and unskilled at the age of 40.
I believe the next generation could make better-informed choices if they focus more on career compatibility with the lifestyles they desire. For example, if they want to become a host on a daytime breakfast show they should consider:
- What time they’re waking up every day.
- How it’s potentially going to affect their partner, children and their health.
- If they have a good run, how many years they can actually expect to be working in that role.
- And what the potential career choices are afterwards.
If that lifestyle doesn’t match what they’re after, then they may need to consider other options. If we look at it from the other perspective, what was the 50-year-old who went camping with their kids or the person who has time to go surfing on the weekends doing for a living? And does that person make the funds to go on as many trips a year as they envisaged, or live in the kind of house and community they desire? There are many facets to consider.
Wouldn’t you have loved school more if part of the curriculum allowed you time to discover a lifestyle that appealed to you? Where you could study peoples lives and learn from their success and failures before heading down that path yourself? I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy to go back to that school any day!