There was a point in time where careers used to start with the promise of running into decades with a single or few employers. As a young boy, I recall my father speaking about how stable careers had a direct correlation to family stability and growth of his children in their early years. That was some decades back. Then it was about few career-stops within every career. Now, we have entered the era of “multiple careers” within the lifespan of one individual. We are beginning to hear about contract careers, side hustle or a fast-evolving gig economy in common speaking. While this seems to be an evolution of the careers in the modern economy, but if we take a step back and wear a macro lens – there is a much larger global phenomenon unfolding right in front of us.
In today’s era, unpredictability of the operating environment is increasingly converging to similar challenges for both entrepreneurs and executives. The global cycle of changes has significantly increased in frequency relative to the not-so-distant past. At the onset of the new decade in January 2020, Kristalina Georgieva (managing director of the IMF, Peterson Institute for International Economics) said, “If I had to identify a theme, it would be increasing uncertainty”. The IMF publishes the WUI (world uncertainty index), which covers 143 countries. It is based on extensive data analysis for the past sixty years against some critical economic and political parameters. I recommend you take a detailed look at the latest WUI report.
On a first look, this graph almost looks like an electrocardiogram of the heart. The frequency of changes in the past decade has gone up by 9X if we were to compare it to the early sixties. The world uncertainty index has a direct impact on the expectations the market will have from self-run businesses or large enterprises, which in turn will lead to obvious changes in executive career paths.
Clearly, the tried and tested concepts for a successful executive career are turning on their heads. It will not be right to generalize this career phenomena. It is only fair we take a closer look at it. I took an approach of dividing careers into four career quadrants in my book “BreakThrough.” Let each decade of the career from 20 years of age to 60 years of age be divided into Quadrants A, B, C, and D respectively.
Depending on which age quadrant you are today, your career trajectory from here is bound to evolve in a way that is intertwined with what’s going on your immediate environment. If we were to zoom in to the impact on quadrant C and D executives (forty to sixty years of age), there will be a high probability of witnessing enhanced levels of stress created by the increase in ambiguity, depending on how well prepared one is to meet the challenges created at various levels. This is because they are already loaded with conflicting priorities such as health, education, mortgages and unstable careers.
The global uncertainty will lead to even faster advent of new-generation talent and intelligent machines. The world as always will respond quickly to stabilize the high frequency of changes by building predictable models, which will lead to the requirement and development of new skills in the upcoming generation of executives, especially in quadrant A (twenty to thirty years of age). Some of these skills may be yet to take birth. We are already witnessing some of this renaissance catalyzed by the pandemic. The generation entering the workforce in this decade will have to keep a periscopic view of the market to catch early signs of the emergence of these new skills.
Alvin Toffler stated this well – “The illiterate of the 21st century won’t be those who can’t read and write. It will be those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
One ground rule that stands true across all four quadrants is that we need to let go of career stories that seem to be losing their punch. There will be a fear of change for sure but holding on to them will be like hanging from a dead tree branch over the rapids for the fear of falling into the churning waters. The brave will swim and win if they time it right. Uncertainty leads to a higher degree of ambiguity which is not the best way our brain likes to deal with day-to-day life or careers. It seeks logical patterns from which decisions can be made. So, depending on which quadrant you fall in today, you need to recognize and list the imminent ambiguities coming your way and before they fog your lens on the road to success. You need to act now, counting in all eventualities.
Here are three tested techniques to manage ambiguity and change.
- Flag your path with the little goals you aspire for. Do not think of the situation in terms of win or lose. You cannot lose; you will only gain from every step howsoever small it might be. There will be enough learnings from your experience that will shine the torch of wisdom on the path to take.
- Defuse stress and leverage it to build focus. Do not let the stress overwhelm you in a way that it drives you to take rash decisions or to lose your cool. This will help you build the resolve to win.
- Examine your sense of awareness and count mainly on the facts known to you. Speculation will not help. As you take every turn, you will have new information coming your way that will help to reassess your positioning and move forward with an increasing chance of winning.
My friend Ray, who left a very successful career as a surgeon to teach others to be at least as good as him, put this very well. It’s all in the mind. You must prepare very well, ensure loose ends are tied up and fears are set aside, and then allow yourself the personal space to focus on that one singular goal you are going for. With every step, the ambiguity clears up, the anxiety levels drop, and the fog clears. The visibility increases, and soon you find yourself in your new groove.
I often refer to people like Ray as warriors of the career renaissance. Success is imminent with every change if you are ready for one. Just start, somewhere.
I am an HR Leader, thinker and author who has worked across multiple industries and global organizations in different parts of the world. My passion is to build and grow careers. If you are interested in cracking the code on creating a purposeful living and career, you can refer to my recently published book – “BreakThrough – The Framework for an Inspired Career”.