Monthly Archives: December 2010

Why The Loss Of Your Job Could Be A Gain For Your Life

As the 52 year-old man entered my office one afternoon, he asked, plaintively, “How do you start over when you can’t start over?”

He had just been let go by his company; he was devastated and frightened about the future. Despite a successful corporate career, he had no prospects in sight, and his wife’s income wasn’t enough to support the family — especially with a daughter in college and a son headed there next year.

He’s one of a rising number of people who’ve been hit hard by the recession in two ways: a forced “career transition” (the euphemism for firing), which is always difficult, and the emotional consequences of job loss, which are more severe in today’s world of uncertainty and insecurity about what the future holds.

Nevertheless, I think the career-related and emotional impact of the economic implosion could prove to be the best thing that ever happened for some people’s lives.

To explain, let’s look at the man I described above. Like so many others who’ve sought my help over the years, he had defined his worth, his value to others, his whole identity, through his career. Now he felt thrown out to sea, alone, not knowing how to “start over when you can’t start over.” In the years prior to the economic meltdown, he could have expected to land another position within a reasonable period of time. He’d probably be dealing with a manageable degree of anxiety.

But that was yesterday. The current economic recession is taking a severe emotional toll on many people: Increasing anxiety and depression, family conflicts and stress-related physical ailments. Moreover, the practical and mental health consequences of job-loss and job-seeking can be especially severe for midlifers. In fact, many are considering the possibility that they may never work again.

So how can I say that this situation could be the best thing that ever happened to someone? It’s because I’ve found Continue reading

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Gen X and Gen Y Workers Are Driving The New “4.0” Career

I often hear the following laments from younger and older careerists — about each other:

Younger workers: “These older people just don’t get it. They expect us to just fall into line, follow bureaucratic rules, and they don’t show us respect for what we know or what we can do.”

The older workers: “These young people just don’t understand how to function within an organization. They want recognition, promotion, everything before they’ve earned it, step-by-step, like we had to do. That’s not how reality is.”

They remind me of a couple who said about each other, “It’s not that we see things differently. It’s worse than that: We’re seeing different things!”

In a way, they are. Different career orientations are like lenses through which you view the world. In my recent post on the rise of the 4.0 career, I wrote that this shift is most visible among Generation X and Generation Y workers, but that it’s a broader movement as well, originating with baby boomers and the 60s generation who are now moving through midlife. But as the 4.0 career orientation grows, it’s also spawning the above differences in perception. In this post I describe the younger generation’s contribution to the 4.0 career transformation. It began before the economic meltdown and will continue to have an impact on organizations and personal lives in the years ahead, post-recovery.

To recap a bit, what I call the 4.0 career orientation includes but extends beyond the 3.0 career concerns that emerged in the last 20 years. The latter are about finding personally meaningful work and seeking a good work-life balance. In essence, the 3.0 careerist is focused on self-development. In contrast, the 4.0 orientation includes but also moves beyond those more personal concerns. It’s more focused on having an impact on something larger than oneself, contributing something socially useful that connects with the needs of the larger human community. The vehicle is opportunity for continuous new learning and creative innovation at work. The 4.0 orientation links with the movement towards creating successful businesses that also contribute to the solution of social problems. Continue reading

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Notes From Serbia: A Different Take On The Career Treadmill

The following is a guest post by Tijana Milosevic, a Belgrade-based freelance writer. Before returning to Serbia, Tijana received an MA degree from the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington DC and worked with various public diplomacy and international communications organizations in Washington. She currently lectures in media psychology and media research at Singidunum University for Media and Communications in Belgrade. Tijana was trained with the Radio Free Europe in Washington and BBC World in London. She is also the recipient of the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award and numerous Open Society Institute scholarships. tijana.milosevic@gmail.com


Coming from Serbia — a country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia — I wasn’t fully aware of the notion of “career anxiety” when I came to Washington DC for my MA degree. Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year.  A colleague of mine who was just turning twenty-seven raised his glass and voiced his fear: “Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track.”

I was twenty- three at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a “career track,” let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of twenty seven. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

While many Americans move out of their homes when they’re 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different.  Countries are smaller, and if there’s any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college. Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they aren’t expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties -without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US. These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as “the treadmill feel”- an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as “harsh capitalistic,” “individualistic” and above all “alienated,” as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children. In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldn’t have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe – where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a “human face.”

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues “have a huge mental health component,” and therapists emphasize the importance of “toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs.”

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” Hannah Arendt equates careerism with lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: “what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide […] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.”

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends.  One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee. Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism.  I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as “friends,” people from my region would prefer to call “acquaintances.” The term “friend” cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from “Eat, Pray, Love,” a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: “You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves,” Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bally after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps that’s a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to “do something spiritual,” but the above quote shows there’s something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for “dolce far niente” or “the joy of doing nothing,” runs high.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on “Eat Pray Love” by a 23-year old blogger: “We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable.” I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel– amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

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How Does Volunteerism Affect The Volunteer?

During our increasingly stretched-out holiday season, it’s easy to feel a bit cynical about people who suddenly want to do some volunteering. The staff of service organizations often wince at the prospect of receiving more offers of help than they actually need. “Where were you the rest of the year?” they mutter silently.

To be fair, many people are not just a once- or twice-a-year volunteer. In fact, volunteering one’s time, service and expertise is on the rise among all age groups. For many, it’s an integral part of their lives, an expression of their core values. That’s raised a question in my mind: Does volunteering time and service impact the life of the volunteer? And if so, how?

In recent years, I’ve researched this a bit through seminars we’ve held at the Center for Progressive Development for volunteers interested in exploring how their volunteering affects their personal and professional lives.

We’ve found that volunteer activity often reshapes or redirects people’s values, perspectives and even their life goals in several ways. It can spur new growth and awareness, both spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes the changes are slight, but clear — like the person who committed herself to ongoing work with a mission that she had initially chosen at random, in response to her company’s suggestion to employees that they consider volunteer service.

In other cases, the impact of volunteer work is more dramatic: changing the company one works for, or, as one man did, changing his Continue reading

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