Career options in the 21st century

I completed my A-Levels in 2007, almost a decade ago. It’s fair to say that:

A) There were a whole host of career options which I had no clue about at that time (which I now do – and only really have gained a proper appreciation for in these last 12-18 months)
B) In the last decade these “other” options have become increasingly typical, as others have woken up to them and transitioned careers to reflect what they care about, and the sort of lifestyle they want to live

In fact, according to the folks at Escape The City, a “21st century career” looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.25.30

At my grammar school in southwest London, as someone who had been reasonably “academic” at school with my grades being pretty decent (and also with the 2 hard-working generations whom had come before me), I had narrowed my career options to the following:

– Medicine
– Dentistry
– Law
– Banking

And that was pretty much it. In other words, something reasonably prestigious which I envisioned would be a safe and steady option and would lead to a well-paid career.

One major downside to “careers advice” and “career options” in 2016 is that we still live in outdated times where options seemed to be very fixed — e.g. “lawyer”, “doctor”, “builder”, “butcher” and stuck in the times when a job used to be a job for life, which is now not the case. In the last 40 years, we have gone from “a job/employer for life” to “several jobs in a lifetime (across different industries)”, and we are now moving towards “several jobs at any one time” with the “freelance economy” on the horizon. (Hence the conformity which school encourages is only becoming increasingly inappropriate & detrimental).

Careers/jobs are simply not fixed like this any more — here’s what’s possible in today’s world:

1. These traditional “identities” can now manifest themselves in a number of different ways

If you want to be a “writer” — you can be a blogger, you can write content for a company, you can be a journalist, and so on. If you want to be a “doctor” — yes, you can go down the traditional GP/consultant route, yet you can also work for a healthcare startup, you can find a way to scale your medical knowledge to reach a wider audience over the internet.

2. The portfolio career

As mentioned, there is now no need to “choose” between one career or another. Have multiple interests? You can now go for a “slash” career comprised of 2 or 3 (or more) parts. You can be a coach/speaker, you can be a writer/teacher, you can even be a lawyer/teacher.

Indeed, many of us are not specialists by design, and have a whole host of interests. (This TED Talk by Emilie Wapnick — “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” is eye-opening).

Recommended reading:
Refuse to Choose! by Barbara Sher
And what do you do? 10 steps to creating a portfolio career by Barrie Hopson & Kate Ledger

3. Solopreneurship

It is now possible to carve out your own skillset in whichever field / based on whichever interest(s) you may have, and then either build your own online audience from it, or work for yourself and take on your own clients. You don’t have to build a huge company, you don’t even have to have a business partner or any employees. Many people disillusioned with working in the corporate sector and choosing to transition in this direction.

Credit: Unsplash (via Pixabay)

Recommended reading:
The $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau
Screw Work, Let’s Play by John Williams
Escape from Cubicle Nation, by Pamela Slim
The Escape Manifesto by Escape The City

4. Entrepreneurship

I had no idea it was possible to pursue business at a young age, having been under the impression it was for “older people” who had experience under their belt and then magically went on to build successful businesses. With the rise of startup/accelerator programmes, enterprise schemes at school (e.g. Young Enterprise), entrepreneurship courses at universities, as well as programmes/funding for entrepreneurial students at university, in addition to programmes like NEF (New Entrepreneurs Foundation) — entrepreneurship, though not for everyone, is now accessible to graduates and young people in general.

Note of caution: there is a certain amount of glamour attached to entrepreneurship and startups. It’s really important to know the pros and cons and understand the bigger picture, before jumping into either one of them.

5. Working for a startup

If I had known that startups/small businesses was “a thing”/a genuine option, that may well have been the option I had chosen coming out of school. Being a small business, you get to learn a lot, work closely with some amazing individuals and really feel close to the mission of whichever business you are joining.

Startups are emerging not only in London but a number of other UK cities, and across every sector: from the “traditional” sectors of education and healthcare, through to “new” sectors such as Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing.

Recommended reading:
Why young people should seriously consider working for a startup

Though the landscape has changed a lot in the last few years and these other options have since “emerged”, careers are probably the farthest from linear and defined that they have ever been. The 21st century career is all about exploring, experimenting and zigzagging.

2016 is an exciting time for young people, whether coming out of school, college or university.

PS. Despite (hopefully!) being wiser now than I was 10 years ago, it’s been a fun journey :)

I originally wrote this article for the Thriva blog (it also featured on Medium)

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