The Career is Dead… Long Live Work!

I started The Work Project in September 2014 as a way to understand if there was an alternative way to make a living. There were no more rules than that. As the project progresses, it’s becoming obvious that although there is a career path well-trodden (one that meanders from education through a trade, on towards retirement and days of lawn bowls in our mid-sixties), in the world of work there really are no rules.

On this journey I’ve been privileged to meet people doing many things, each in their own way, on their own terms. From artists, writers and creatives, those who have consciously removed themselves from the corporate world to pursue family time and make a living from previous hobbies, to drug dealers, factory workers, rare book sellers, actors and extras. Whether freelancer, employee, renegade or reluctant redundant, there are increasing numbers of people who are building work into and around their lives, rather than trying to find space for a life around work.

Recently, I’ve started to wonder what puts the fear into others. What keeps people in jobs they hate, as slaves to the wage? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs would tell us that it’s in our nature to ensure survival and security above anything else. In Western Society, a steady job with regular pay largely takes care of these things.

By the end of this project I’ll have a counter-argument to Maslow, but for now I’m focussing on the idea that some of us have just never considered the alternatives – understood what we really want from our working lives and how to build that into what we do on a daily basis, whilst covering our need for safety and security. We live in a privileged age where, largely due to advances in technology, we’re able to approach work in new and flexible ways – we have choice. The best choices are informed ones and in order to make these, we need information. It seems though, that many of those lost to David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs Syndrome, don’t have the details they need to really consider and choose their own work path.

As education provides career advice based on what we should do and sends us down pre-defined paths, it sets a momentum in motion that perpetuates. Get a job, pay the bills, progress through promotion, get bigger salary, get bigger bills, keep moving up the ladder… ad infinitum. So many of us never step back to really consider if what we’re doing is nurturing our soul, contributing in a real way, making us happy.

The conversation that started The Work Project involved this sentence:

I work for the same reasons as everyone else – to pay my bills and have a bit of fun when I’m not at work.

The idea of work as a penance bodes badly for employees and employers alike. If anyone who relates to that statement could stop for a moment – not to try and consider the baffling options of opportunity out there, but to tune into themselves and understand what they really want to get out of their relationship with work, they could renegotiate the terms of their work… with themselves.

In the past I’ve spent time playing with the Business Model Canvas. It’s a straightforward tool that lays out on a single piece of paper what a business wants to achieve and how to achieve it, reviewing and updating it periodically. I started to wonder how many of us ever actually sit down and fully consider our relationship with work in such a way and how taking that time, having it in black and white in front of us, might help us inform decisions.

A bit of research (I typed Career Canvas into Google) gave rise to lots of Career Coaching, but this isn’t about careers. The traditional idea of a ‘career’ is counter-productive – it refers to a one-way relationship where we are wage slaves. The dictionary definition of career is an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.

In an age where increasingly we’re able to rethink work and the idea of a job for life is almost void, our relationship with work is two-way. It’s an ever-evolving adventure, not a cradle-to-grave certainty. There are questions we need to ask ourselves honestly around what makes us happy, what we want from life and what we could do (not what we should).

In the hope that it might be useful for followers of The Work Project or anyone out there who wants to assess their relationship with work, I’ve designed a first version of something I’m calling The Work Canvas. It’s based on the questions I had to ask myself as I embarked on this adventure and reached this point.

I’d like to think of this as an open source starting point. If it has any use, it’s out there and open to suggestion, improvement, redesign and change. Anyone who wants to may use it and I’d love to hear what people are doing with it. Equally, if it’s useless, I’d love to hear that too! Use it in your business or personal life, just don’t use it directly to make money… it’s not that kind of thing!

You can find The Work Canvas here. I’d love your feedback and appreciate you sharing it with the world. There are lots of people out there who need the catalyst to rethink their relationship with work.

Let’s start the conversation!