Career Paradigms: Boomers and Gen X vs. Gen Y and Gen Z

careerOne of the buzz phrases these days with the arrival of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is “career readiness.” I don’t think there is any educator that would disagree with the notion that we want to prepare our students to be successful beyond graduation and into college and career. But after watching this talk by Nathaniel Koloc (@nathanielkoloc) from ReWork, I wonder several things: (1) How realistic are the expectations we are setting for students in terms of careers? Do the expectations align with the baby-boomer/Gen X paradigm of careers or the newer Gen Y/Z paradigm? (2) If we are approaching conversations about careers with students using the baby-boomer/Gen X paradigm, which I’m convinced is outdated, how do we (school leadership) go about changing that conversation? Currently, who is responsible for career conversations with students? Who should be?

In the talk, the essence of which can be found in this article, Koloc reviews the typical way we think about career:

  • Success in career is linear and sloping upward.
  • Finding the next job is a reactive pattern that is often too self-centered: What do I want? What am I good at? This kind of thinking is flawed because people don’t know what to aim for. They haven’t yet pondered the question, “What does it mean to be fulfilled in my work?” There hasn’t been sufficient thought put into the purpose of their work.

Koloc proposes a better mental model:

  • View career as a set of stepping stones. What are you shooting for? What does it mean to have meaningful work?
  • Happiness in a career is the result of three things:
    • Purpose – feeling like you are connected to a higher cause, something bigger than yourself (In the article, he calls this legacy.)
    • Mastery – the feeling that you are getting better and better at skills and talents that you enjoy using
    • Control – having the ability to decide what you work on, with whom, how much you get paid, etc.; you control the things that surround your work structurally. (In the article he calls this freedom.)
  • Purpose is not “follow your passion.” Purpose has three components:
    • Values – principals that you hold dear and that you want to live in accordance with; guidelines, rules of engagement. Everything that you do should be in line with your values. Koloc recommends you pick 3-5 values and write them down.
    • Impact focus – How do you want the world to be different because of your work? What do you want to make happen?
    • Needs and desires – things that are less central than values and focus (things such as work location).

What is the relationship between purpose, mastery and control. Here is ReWork’s theory:

  • There is a certain order that will likely land you with meaningful work: Purpose should guide your mastery. As you acquire more mastery you unlock (or exchange your skill mastery for) more control. The more control you acquire, the more time you can take to better understand how your purpose is changing. And the cycle continues.
  • For every career move you make, you want either more clarity to your purpose, a deeper level of mastery, or an increased level of control, or ideally an increase in all three area.

There is much more in the talk including what gets you to the next stepping stone on your path (competitive advantage) and the things people actually do that land them in satisfying jobs and careers (viewing career as a grand experiment and understanding market needs).

Is the topic of career yet another area where we as educators have failed to change with the times? How do we model a new paradigm of career in our own careers as educators? Might most of us be missing the key idea of purpose?

We can start by looking inward. What is our higher cause? What is that “bigger than thyself” ideal that drives us? How do we want the world to be different because of our work as educators? How is our purpose evidenced in our work as educators?


2 comments on “Career Paradigms: Boomers and Gen X vs. Gen Y and Gen Z

  1. Not only is public education out of date in its methodology/approach to career preparation, but also in our proposed paths to great careers. The overriding notion and prescription today is still a four-year college path. However, we fail to address the reality that there are great careers and will be great careers we aren’t even aware of in the future that will not require that 20th century path.

  2. Pingback: Career Ready….for what careers? | Working at the edge

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