Free agency: Love those job options
The idea that someone will stay at one company for a whole career went out the window more than a decade ago. Now most people will have more than eight jobs between the time they're 18 and 32 years old. To Baby Boomers, this is a shift in thinking, but for those of us who came after them, it's business as usual.
In keeping with my fellow Gen-Xers, I changed jobs 10 times in the 10 years just after college. And I adapted well to the Internet economy where star players switched jobs every year or so to gain those (now incredible) 25 percent raises. But at this point, I have to confess that I feel a little worn out.
At first, the free-agent "no one owns me" attitude seemed great with all that flexibility, room to move up, the brand of you, rah-rah. But the reality of a free-agent nation is hard.
Friendships made at work are generally short term because the jobs are short term. Frequent insurance changes mean frequent changes in doctors. And there are too many times when the gaps between full-time jobs for free-agent hunters are too big for a savings account to bear.
At this point, the free-agent nation feels alienating, unstable, and financially risky. I long for a company that I know I can stay at for the next 15 or 20 years even though I know the odds of that happening are slim.
It won't happen because most companies that have long-lasting jobs take forever to make any other changes. They're often too boring for Gen-Xers and Ys, who expect more from careers than any workforce in history. We seek fun and flexible jobs with new challenges around each bend, and we're prepared to give up some stability for it.
But maybe things need to be more calibrated. I've lived through layoffs, dot-com bankruptcies, and terrible economies. And I've lost jobs because of my own stupidity, too: pushing too hard on a good boss for more flexibility than was reasonable. All these situations have added up to constant, low-grade worry over the fact that I have no idea where I'll be five years from now. And I spend a lot of time figuring out how to keep this worry from overpowering me.
I have a five-year and 10-year plan for my personal life and my career. That helps a little, because even though my career is not predictable, I have a steady vision for where I'm aiming to be, so I can adjust my tactics to accommodate both unexpected opportunities and unexpected setbacks.
But the thing that really has helped me succeed in the free-agent universe is that I'm always working on two or three ways to reach my career goals. I've found that putting all my eggs in one basket is too much pressure– I become constipated in the action department because I start feeling like every phone call and every meeting mean so much.
Keeping a few eggs in my basket is like job insurance. I'm never sure what will work out, but something always seems to go well when I have a few options. For example, when I was running my own software company, I wrote articles on the side. And I also taught college courses. I didn't know what would come of any of that. As it turns out, the teaching never amounted to much. But the writing took off after 9/11 when my software market fell apart.
Now most of my income comes from a book contract. I admit that I also peruse help wanted ads. I don't think I'd take a corporate job now, but in a free-agent nation, I wouldn't rule anything out.
Having a long-term vision for my career gets me excited about the possibilities, but having a backup plan keeps me from going nuts over the lack of stability in the workforce of the new millennium.