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Finding Work That Works for You
Do you have the perfect job?
If you are the right person in the right job with the right skills at the right time in your life, work will be a joy.
Finding this kind of job – work that works for you and your employer - is not easy. But it’s worth the effort for all sorts of reasons.
Firstly, we spend so many hours at work. Although we talk about “work-life balance”, as if the two things were separate, in reality, our work is a part of life and a key component in making it a happy and successful one.
Finding the right job becomes more important as our working lives lengthen – many of us now find that we work later in life than we originally planned. Maybe we want to keep working, because of the social and mental benefits, or maybe we have to because our pension provision is insufficient.
In either situation, life will be better if the role is interesting, useful and pays the bills. But the job you loved at thirty may not be the perfect job in your sixties. As we age, our ideas about how and where we want to work alter.
Circumstances can force us to change our views, too. Over the turbulent months of 2020, our working lives were radically altered by events beyond our control, causing many of us to rethink how we want to work in future. New options have opened up, and new roles have arisen, while other jobs have become much harder to find.
The challenge of finding work that works recurs regularly in life – and we have to rise to it repeatedly.
Rethinking in 2021
We will all face this challenge in the course of this coming year. As the consequences of the pandemic will no doubt reshape markets and employment, we will have to reconsider how we fit in.
The job that was perfect in 2019, may now seem much less rewarding because our views have changed during months of lockdown. If a ‘perfect’ job vanishes under economic pressures, there may be new options which you’d never previously thought possible.
Employers will be rethinking, too. Companies must find ways to stay in business, delivering valuable, useful products and services in markets that have been gradually changing for the last decade – and which have altered radically over the last year.
We could describe our challenge in the same terms: to find the market (employer or client) for our skills and experience, that allows us to do something useful, interesting and remunerated.
And the solution can be the same too: develop a strategy for your working life, just as organizations develop their strategies to navigate through complex and changing markets. You don’t need to invent a process from scratch to help you to find the perfect job: instead, borrow from the process used by organizations to develop their strategies. Each of us can formulate a sense of direction, of purpose, to use in generating some realistic actions to find the work that works for us.
You could say that formulating strategy is essentially a question-and-answer process.
When we think about making changes in our working lives, we tend to ask ourselves three particular questions: What’s working right now and what’s not? Where do I want to be? And how do I get from here to there?
These questions are easy to ask but hard to answer. They cover past, present and future and span both ideas and action. But these are exactly the same questions which strategy processes are designed to help to answer – and those processes can work for us as individuals just as well as they work for organizations.
A useful skill for women
This approach is particularly useful for women. Why? Firstly, because women often play so many different roles at work and outside, in families and communities – our working lives have to accommodate those other responsibilities.
“Career” planning can therefore be particularly difficult for women because of the frequent contradictions we may experience between what we want to do and what we must do. This is a navigational challenge, to find new routes to make progress around obstacles and yet still head in the right direction.
Secondly, although everyone’s life goes through different phases, external events can often precipitate a sudden and unplanned shift for women. Plunged into a new phase, we have to find a way through a new set of challenges – for example, returning to work after maternity leave.
Later phases of working life bring their own problems: if you have to look for a new job in your fifties, you may find yourself having to deal with society’s preconceptions about older women – and what they can and can’t do. This is also true for men, but although the data is slightly contradictory, this kind of ageism in recruitment can affect women most sharply, and at an earlier age.
Most successful organizations regularly review and revise their strategies, particularly when markets and consumer behaviour and expectations are shifting. Changes like these can be demanding, difficult even, but turbulence can also bring opportunity.
If 2021 forces you to rethink your working life, investing some time in defining your own strategy could be well worth doing. It could help you to find the work that works for you now and develop your strategizing skills for the future.