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Productivity

Are You Ready To Be Lucky?

The new era of work requires us to constantly reinvent ourselves and our jobs in an uncertain world. Find out how to stay on top of your game.


We’re at an interesting crossroads in terms of careers. We still want them, but they don’t exist anymore. In the US, the typical job tenure is now 4 years, with most workers cycling through about 11 jobs in their lifetime.*

If the 20th-century career was a ladder that we climbed from one predictable rung to the next, the 21st-century career is more like a broad rock face that we are all free climbing. There’s no defined route, and we must use our own ingenuity, training, and strength to rise to the top. We must make our own luck.

The lightning-fast evolution of technology means that jobs can now become indispensable or outmoded in a matter of years, or even months. Who knew what a “Community Manager” was ten years ago? What about an “iPad App Designer”? Or what about “Chief Scientist” (at LinkedIn)?

A substantive portion of the working population now earns its livelihood doing a job that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. And if your job itself hasn’t changed, chances are you’re using new and unanticipated technology and/or skills to perform that job. (E.g. You’re a designer who blogs, a comedian who uses Twitter, or a branding consultant turned e-tailer.)

A substantive portion of the working population now earns its livelihood doing a job that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago.

Ten years from now, we’ll probably all be doing some new type of work that we couldn’t even possibly imagine today. The thought is both exhilarating and frightening. How do we prepare for a future filled with uncertainty?

1. Explore, relentlessly. The tools you use today will not be the tools you use in the future.

You may have heard the term “life sport” before. It refers to sports – like golf, tennis, or swimming – that you can play from ages 7 to 70. The ever-brilliant Kevin Kelly recently expanded this concept to include technology as life sport, outlining a must-read list of “techno life skills” that we should all cultivate. As Kelly puts it: “If you are in school today the technologies you will use as an adult tomorrow have not been invented yet. Therefore, the life skill you need most is not the mastery of specific technologies, but mastery of the technium as a whole – how technology in general works.”

Whether it’s interviewing someone over Skype, developing an affable Twitter persona, learning how to publish an e-Book, or experimenting with a new task management app, we must become adept at testing out new technologies that can benefit us in our personal and professional lives. Sometimes, we will choose NOT to integrate a new technology into our lives, and that’s okay. It’s the experimentation, and the awareness that we gain through it, that’s key.

If you are in school today the technologies you will use as an adult tomorrow have not been invented yet.

2. Recognize like-minded friends and peers, and cultivate those alliances.

Technology will never change some things, and one of those is the power of relationships. As Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Startup of You recently told me, “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.”

Work, knowledge, and opportunities flow through people, which means that who we know – and how we know them – is our most important asset. But relationships don’t get built by exchanging business cards. They get built with energy, care, enthusiasm, and, most importantly, time – lots of time.

Ten years ago I worked at a publishing startup, and I still know at least 10 people from that job, who have gone on to become creative directors at a global design agencies, architects at cutting-edge firms, lead product developers at digital music labels, fashion entrepreneurs and editors, social media gurus, and the list goes on. You never know where people will end up.

Work, knowledge, and opportunities flow through people. Who we know – and how we know them – is our most important asset.

3. Help people whenever you can. Don’t expect anything in return.

We can all be pretty sure we’re going to need help at some point in the future. As leadership expert and ethnographer Simon Sinek articulated in a rousing 99U talk, “We’re not good at everything, we’re not good by ourselves.” Sinek goes on to describe how the ability to build relationships is the key to our survival as a race and to thriving as idea-makers. The number one way to build relationships, of course, is by helping each other.

But in an age of complex connections and contingencies, there isn’t always a simple 1-to-1 correlation between acts of generosity. (As in, “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.”) And there shouldn’t be. Helping our peers, colleagues, and allies should be a regular habit and its own reward. We usually can’t foresee how, but the goodness always comes back around.

4. Keep learning – on the job, and off.

If you want to stay at the top of your career game, indulging your curiosity is your greatest asset. It could mean attending conferences or lectures relevant to your current occupation, or spending an hour every weekend on Code Academy, or finding an excuse to interview the people you admire most.With resources like Coursera, EdX, Khan Academy, Skillshare, General Assembly, Lynda.com, and more, there’s no excuse not to expand your knowledge. If you can create something tangible that you can show a potential employer in the process (e.g. a writing sample, a portfolio piece, a website, etc), even better.

If you want to stay at the top of your career game, indulging your curiosity is your greatest asset.

5. Be proactive about proposing new roles and tasks.

The days of “grooming” young employees for senior positions are over. No one is going to spend more time thinking about your career than you are. (And, honestly, why would you expect them to?) As NY Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman writes, employers “are all looking for the same kind of people – people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.”

You won’t be rewarded with exciting new opportunities by keeping your head down and following the rules. If you want a new challenge at work or more responsibility, it’s on you to pitch your boss or your client on what needs to be done, why it’s a good idea, why you’re the best person, and why everyone will benefit. Lead the way with your own creativity and initiative, and back it up with enthusiasm and a strong business case.

6. Always be asking “What’s next?”

If you’re not asking questions, you’re not going to find answers. And we often wait to ask those hard career questions right up until the very moment when we direly need answers. We wait until we get laid off to think about what’s next. Or we wait until we’re completely miserable and burnt out at our jobs before we ask, “what’s next?”.But if you’re going to switch jobs every four years or less, you should probably be asking yourself “what’s next?” all of the time. I’m not talking about asking “what’s next?” in a way that disengages you from your current job. I’m talking about asking in a way that helps you push yourself.

Asking in a way that helps you hone in on your passion. Asking in a way that helps you decide what new skills you want to develop. Asking in a way that helps you reach out to meet that new mentor. Asking in a way that helps you take on that big new project at work that kind of scares you.

Asking because if you don’t ask, you’ll never find out.

What’s Next For You?

How are you preparing for rapid-pace career changes? What questions are you asking? Share your tips in the comments.

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (54)
  • Paul Turzio

    This was one of the most logical and informative articles I have read in along time. Thank you and Bravo!

  • Aleksandra Petrova

    great article!

  • steph

    Exactly. You learn so much from the mistakes you make that they aren’t even really mistakes so much as guides! You can never be mad at yourself for “doing”!

  • Genevieve

    Woooow! Really inspiring 🙂 Thank you very much!

  • Danielle

    I completely agree, I thought it was fantastic!

  • Isabel Jimenez

    Great article, thanks! It can be tiresome at times, but working hard at MAKING your path and your impact brings results, it does!… not to mention how satisfying it is!

  • Ralph Moreau

    Amazing. This article is so serendipitous to my life right now. I mean I’ve been thinking about all these things, and I feel I’ve been getting lashed out against for thinking in this way. For some reason I feel like I’m going to change my occupation like 5 times in my life. Only because I have such a high sense of hedonic adaptation. But this was incredible thank you. And I really love the quote “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to
    people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a
    person.” So good…

  • Bob Irish

    I recently left a “state” job where people stick around for decades. Two years was enough for me to gain experience and move on to new ground. Now at my new job, I’m looking where it will lead to next.

  • Mark Koekemoer

    @Jocelyn Great article, thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  • Padraig McKee

    Great article! And another thanks for introducing me to Code Academy!

  • Bonnie

    Deanna and Julia, I don’t believe that long term job security is unobtainable and I think that if you fall into a rut, you must have put yourself there. I work in high tech and have been for all my career….by default, change is a constant in my field. I’ve been at my latest company/agency for 13 years and I am still growing and being challenged every day. I think the secret is to find a company and situation that really works for you and then consistently push yourself to be one to be assigned to the new and interesting projects. Your passion and interest will bring you job satisfaction and success which, in turn, will net you promotions, raises and longevity in the job. Oh, and being a nice person that people like and trust goes MILES!! Live the article and best of luck to you!

  • Christian Burne

    Timing of this is article immaculate. Thank you. And once again, achingly accurate and sharp wisdom for this white knuckle generation of ours. Bravo los 99%

  • Justin Howley Suzanne Burdett

    Why can’t every creative blog produce content of this caliber? Great article well done.

  • jkglei

    Thanks for the kind words, Justin! We do strive for quality over quantity. : )

  • jkglei

    “White-knuckle generation.” I like that Christian. Daunting, but accurate.

  • Kylvrob

    A great resource is Lawline.com – all of their classes are free online! You can learn anything you want from a legal stand point.

  • Janet

    The emphasis on personal relationships are spot-on. It’s too easy too leave that networking to the internet, but true, physical presence is where the magic happens.

  • Michel Schnaas

    Relevant quote: “Luck happens when opportunity meets preparation.” I now live by this. And this article articulates it perfectly. Thanks!

  • 99U

    Totally agree, Michel!

  • Jon Leaman

    I came down to the comments to post exactly what you posted.

    The title of the article is perfect. No one cares about your career but you. Be a life learner. Ask “What’s next?”

    I love it.

  • Clever lill Miss Kelly Rose

    Two-thumbs up. 🙂
    thank you!

  • Mark Boorman

    Crystal clear and thought provoking. Excellent.

  • Inspired

    So inspirational! Would love to read more of your work! Thanks for sharing!

  • Clara James

    Such tips are really helpful in boositng career level.
    read more interview tips from http://blog.rozee.pk

  • Mousab tamem

    Thank u very much . Am really inspired and fired up of your deep insight of what is coming into the world of business . I work on those creative ideas passionately to make the most out of them.

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