It used to be that with hard work and maybe a little luck, you could get a decent job, stick with the same company for decades and retire comfortably. Sure, you might not be rich, but you would be secure.
That’s no longer the case — and it hasn’t been for awhile, argues University of Waterloo economics professor Larry Smith in his new book,”No Fears, No Excuses: What you Need to Do to Have a Great Career.” Smith suggests that our approach to finding a lasting career hasn’t changed as quickly as the job market has. As a result, so many of us are held back from our dream careers by fear and excuses.
We talked to Smith about how to have a great career — and not merely a good one.
You say in your book that there are no more “safe” 9 to 5 jobs. Why?
For a lot of people, the midrange [job] was attainable and available, and offered reasonable opportunities. Over my lifetime, I have watched that midrange just shrink. In proportion, the number of bad jobs is rising, and the number of good jobs also rising, but the middle of that is shrinking. That means if you’re shooting for the mid-range, you’re shooting for a range of shrinking opportunities.
What do you mean by bad jobs?
So many jobs have gone from good to the dreadful scale, which of course is because of the expansion of workload. A lot of jobs that still were good jobs 15 years ago are now pressure cooker jobs, for which a work-life balance is a delusion.
Balance is nonexistentfor a lot of people. There’s a lot of frustration around finding “good” jobs, especially among people who are just happy to be working. Maybe it’s a part of the American dream that no longer exists.
I want people to recognize: [The American Dream] is still alive. But you have to recognize that the mid-ground was the quote “easy” American dream. A great career is not about status prestige or huge amounts of money. It’s not a one-on-one mapping where the more money you make, the greater your career.
In your book you say that a great career is, in part, about passion and impact. But there’s always good and bad elements of a job. For recent college grads, how can they tell if they’re building a great career or spinning their wheels?
It’s not always easy to tell, but in the beginning there are some [signs]. It’s not a question of just trying the best you can, and giving it a shot. You now have to figure out what your distinction is. One of the reasons you need to have a passionate interest in your work is that it does contribute to one’s wellbeing. Unless you love what you’re doing, you can’t innovate it. If you can’t call up new ideas, then truly you’re not going to have a great career. You need to have a passionate interest in what you’re doing, but that’s not absolutely not enough.
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So why isn’t passion enough?
The elements [of a great career] are that you enjoy your work, that your talent is being taken to its limit, that you feel like you’re being stretched and that you’re growing because of your capability, and you feel like you’ve impacted the world around you, and that you care about that impact.
The other element that’s so important is a plan. A plan for how you’re going to develop that creative skill. It has to be a multi-year plan, and I know that’s not sexy, but great careers aren’t built overnight. But the young person should start now, the minute they graduate.