The best career advice for millennials: the 2-year parachute

The best career advice for millennials: the 2-year parachute
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The two-year parachute might just be the cleverest, and most useful piece of career advice for millennials, students and indeed anyone who thinks they may want to change careers at some stage in their life. 

The future of work

The future of work will be multi-dimensional. Already, it is expected that millennials will hold at least 14 jobs in their working lifetime.

(Read Yvonne Sonsino’s brilliant The New Rule for Living Longer – MSL Publishing).

For our children, and their children, not only will they hold different jobs but, in all likelihood, they’ll also take on multiple careers, during a working life that could span 60 years. As anyone struggling with changing career will tell you, making the change is not without its degree of challenge, risk and anxiety. Even for the most confident and determined.  Career advice millennials and students is plentiful, but is it the right advice?  Is it actually telling young people what they need to know?

Mark’s story

Let me tell you about Mark.  Mark decided to make his career change in his 40s. He knew his worth, he was confident in his abilities, built up over 20 years occupying varied and senior roles within his industry.  But, nonetheless, he was acutely aware of the risks. Family commitments and expectations were paramount, and it took a lot of soul-searching and discussions with family and friends before he felt ready to take the step. But he was at an enormous advantage.  And this advantage was as a result of advice that Mark had taken from his father many year before. 

That advice turned out to be one of the most useful and, at times, liberating lessons that he would ever learn.

Mark’s Dad was giving career advice for millennials before millennials existed

career advice for students

His father had said to a young Mark, starting out in life,

‘make sure you’ve always got enough in savings to last you for two years should you find yourself out of work or wanting to leave your job’.  

Mark refers to this as ‘the two-year parachute’. During the good times Mark had been diligent, and squirrelled away sufficient funds to amass this DIY insurance policy. And whilst not an insignificant sum to amass, it is achievable – particularly if you start early enough – as Mark did. But he came to realise that the real benefit of the nest egg was not the money itself but, like any insurance policy, it was the peace of mind that it brought him. 

Not just peace of mind though, as Mark would discover, it also brought an empowering influence that would have a transformative impact on his career and his ability to derive satisfaction and meaning from it.  Mark’s Dad was proving career advice for millennials even before we knew what millennials were.

Stuck in a job

The reality is that most of us will be bereft of choice and trapped in a zombie job.  Many of us feel trapped in our jobs and careers.  Most have nothing approaching the level of savings that Mark had behind him.  In fact, NEST Insights conducted a survey recently which revealed that over 50% of the sample could not muster £500 in the event of an emergency – and 25% had no liquid savings whatsoever!  A significant percentage of us cannot even make it to the end of the month without borrowing.

This situation can lead to a stagnant labour market who simply don’t have the means to fund even the shortest period of downtime necessary to transition between jobs, let alone careers. The result is that skills and experience are not readily transferable and this, in turn, can have a profound effect on productivity and on economic growth.

At a personal level, the impact can be profound. Gallup tell us that fewer than 11% of us in the UK are actively engaged in our work. By implication therefore, you have a nearly 90% chance of feeling disengaged, and this can range from being mildly frustrated to suicidal. This is not an overstatement, particularly for men in their 40s, a demographic in which we see the highest suicide rates, for reasons which I will not go into now but suffice to say that career pressures play a significant role. 

(See the ONS stats which shows that suicide figures for men between the ages of 30 and 60 are virtually double that of any other age group – middle-aged men are a vulnerable group!)

 

Lack of options is instrumental in shaping the way we feel about our work.  When people say, ‘I hate my job’ it could easily be as much about feeling trapped as the work itself.

The myth of career choice

Furthermore, educational choices do not match career path reality. Most people end up in occupations largely unrelated to their educational aspirations.  Research by the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York, (Staff Reports Agglomeration and Job Matching among College Graduates by Jaison R. Abel Richard Deitz) suggests that only 27% of graduates end up in a job related to their degree.   And frankly, at 17, what the hell do you know anyway about what you’ll want to spend the rest of your life doing?

We are raised on the fairy tale that the world is your oyster, and you are free to choose who you are and what you do. The fact is, as soon as you choose, you are sacrificing the perceived freedom that the prospect of choice offers us. To choose, for that moment at least, is to sacrifice all other options. And be under no illusion – it’s often much harder to recapture that freedom later on, especially when you are under duress and distress.  Career advice for millennials and students fails to impart these simple truths.

If you can’t bargain you are a slave

career advice for millennials

At some point, you have to choose. The option of not committing brings its own tale of woe. To grow up is to commit and to shoulder the burden of responsibility.

But that commitment must be your choice. If it is imposed upon you, you will feel imprisoned.

When people say that they feel stuck in their careers it’s because that’s precisely what they are, stuck, in a very real sense. If you have no option, and I really mean no option, other than to remain in your current job, you will become meek, weak and miserable. When you have no choice but to continue to offer your time in exchange for money you have no bargaining power. You will become timid, fearful of airing your opinions and overly sensitive to the subjective opinions of others as to your effectiveness and value. Even if you love the work, over time this situation will become intolerable.

When you have no exit strategy and no bargaining power you are, to all intents and purposes, enslaved.

And this is the worst bit; we attempt to alleviate the effects of this enslavement through the continued pursuit of status and money.  But seniority, status, recognition and reward do not go to the timid and the fearful.  Working hard and being good at your job is not enough.  And, perversely, when we do achieve the promotion or the pay rise, it’s merely making matters worse in a sense.  A higher rank can mean more responsibility and longer hours, heightening the stress and anxieties that you were already experiencing. 

The pay increase is rarely sufficient to build a safety-net fund quickly either.  It’s usually just enough to keep us in the game, but not enough to allow us to abdicate from it.

This paints a dismal picture but, like any standpoint, it is not representative of the whole.  Of course, there are many people that make different choices that, for their career at least, yield huge success.  But success in one area may belie failures in others. 

Achieving extraordinary status and reward at work can often come at a price – troubled personal relationships and poor health for example.  For sure, there are some that simply love their work, and I’m not for a moment denying this. 

All I’m saying is that, statistically at least, the chances are that you won’t love your work – at best it will be tolerable. 

If you turn out to be average, you’d best be prepared.

Practical career advice for millennials

At some point, you have to choose. The option of not committing brings its own tale of woe. To grow up is to commit and to shoulder the burden of responsibility.

But that commitment must be your choice. If it is imposed upon you, you will feel imprisoned.

When people say that they feel stuck in their careers it’s because that’s precisely what they are, stuck, in a very real sense. If you have no option, and I really mean no option, other than to remain in your current job, you will become meek, weak and miserable. When you have no choice but to continue to offer your time in exchange for money you have no bargaining power. You will become timid, fearful of airing your opinions and overly sensitive to the subjective opinions of others as to your effectiveness and value. Even if you love the work, over time this situation will become intolerable.

When you have no exit strategy and no bargaining power you are, to all intents and purposes, enslaved.

And this is the worst bit; we attempt to alleviate the effects of this enslavement through the continued pursuit of status and money.  But seniority, status, recognition and reward do not go to the timid and the fearful.  Working hard and being good at your job is not enough.  And, perversely, when we do achieve the promotion or the pay rise, it’s merely making matters worse in a sense.  A higher rank can mean more responsibility and longer hours, heightening the stress and anxieties that you were already experiencing. 

The pay increase is rarely sufficient to build a safety-net fund quickly either.  It’s usually just enough to keep us in the game, but not enough to allow us to abdicate from it.

This paints a dismal picture but, like any standpoint, it is not representative of the whole.  Of course, there are many people that make different choices that, for their career at least, yield huge success.  But success in one area may belie failures in others. 

Achieving extraordinary status and reward at work can often come at a price – troubled personal relationships and poor health for example.  For sure, there are some that simply love their work, and I’m not for a moment denying this. 

All I’m saying is that, statistically at least, the chances are that you won’t love your work – at best it will be tolerable. 

If you turn out to be average, you’d best be prepared.

The two-year parachute

So Mark’s Dad was right.  With the two-year parachute safely packed away behind your back you know that if the push comes to the shove, and a shove it may well turn out to be, you can survive the fall.  And not just survive but have sufficient time to think about where you want to land. 

But the beauty of it though, is that the security that the two-year parachute affords you will, in all probability, mean that that you may never have to use it – at least not under duress.  The pack on your back will embolden you.  You will feel braver, you will be candid, you will make courageous choices.  You will appear more confident and you will be more confident

Mark’s Dad also said, ‘independence of means, means independence of mind’ (I’d like to have met Mark’s Dad). Good bosses (and I stress the word ‘good’) love people who stand up to them and say what they think.  It’s the only way they can gauge the effectiveness of their decision-making.  You will become trusted, valuable and an asset.  Your career will flourish and you will be in control.

And if, one day, you do choose to jump – for all the right reasons – it means you get to choose when and where.  Multi-transitional careers are on the way – read

 

How to change career when it seems impossible.

 

Two years’ salary – that’s a lot of dosh.  It’s not easy, but the bar is low – currently between £0 and £500.  Anything you’ve saved beyond that and you’re immediately in the top 50%.  For every pound you amass, you have bought yourself another fraction of a second in the air.  So think about Mark and think about his Dad’s career advice. 

If you need a career strategy (and, by the way, you do), let the two-year parachute be one of the cornerstones.  Thank you Mark’s Dad.

Further reading on career advice for millennials

Watch Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace

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