Developing Your Skills Is More Important Than Pursuing A Career

Tom Stevenson

When I was growing up, I had all sorts of dreams about how my life would turn out. Maybe I’d be a footballer, a lawyer, or an astronaut. At the age of five, anything seemed possible!

As the years progressed, and I became older and (hopefully) wiser, the dreams ceased. I had little idea of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t good enough to be a footballer, practising law didn’t seem too exciting, while the thought of sitting on top of thousands of gallons of rocket fuel before being launched into space didn’t fill me with ease!

I did what most of us end up doing. I hoped I’d find a nice stable job once I left school and graduated from university. If I couldn’t fulfil my dreams, at least I could assure myself I’d have a comfortable job to fall back on.

The financial crash in 2008 hit just as I left school to go to university. I remember wondering what it all meant. Would the world be the same when I graduated three years later? Was anything going to change? Would the job market improve?

Once I got to university, I forgot all about these questions and threw myself into social life and my studies. It was only towards the end of my final year that my head emerged from the sand and I began to look around to survey the landscape.

Suddenly, the future worried me. The certainty of education was being replaced by the reality of moving into the labour market. One that had been thrown out of kilter by a ‘once in a lifetime financial crash.’

After I graduated and got a job I realised my life would not be the same as my parent’s generation. I would not be in a single job for the rest of my life. The ‘career person’ is extinct. As dead as the dodo.

That reality was clear in 2011, and it’s even clearer in 2021. The idea you’ll have a life similar to the ones you’re parents had is a fallacy. It’s not going to happen.

Instead of falling back on a singular career where you master one craft, the future will require you to be a jack of all trades.

The Master of All Trades

The idea that you can walk into a job in your early twenties, stay there for forty years, receive a nice pension and live happily for the rest of your years is dead.

Even the Boomers, who were arguably born into the most favourable economic conditions in history, changed their jobs frequently. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs from the age of 18 to 52.

They may have been blessed to be in their twenties at this point in history, but they still didn’t work in one job all their lives. Sure, some of them will have been lucky enough to walk into a job in their youth and walk out of the same job in their 60s, but not everyone was so lucky.

Some people in my generation, Millenials and perhaps Gen Z too, have internalised this myth that we can stay in one job for the majority of our working life. The belief is, well our parents did the same so why can’t we?

You have to admire the sentiment, but it’s wishful thinking. The world has changed. There’s no going back to the way things were. The financial crash in 2008 upended the economy, Covid has done the same and with the automation of many jobs likely to happen this decade, this sentiment is not only out of date, but it’s also dangerous.

It lures you into a false sense of security. You get a job, like it and believe you’ll stay there until you retire. Twenty years ago you may have been right. Now? These jobs will be firmly in the minority.

From my own experience, I’ve lost track of the number of jobs I’ve had since I graduated. Granted, my story is a bit of an outlier, as I spent five years travelling and living abroad. But, my experience is likely to be reflective of the new reality going forward.

Multiple jobs, setting up a side hustle to bring in extra income and developing numerous skills we can apply to a wide range of fields. Instead of specialising in one area, we’re now becoming proficient in a wide variety of areas.

Back in the day, this would have been seen as a hindrance. An impediment to mastery, a stain on your resume. Now, it’s a badge of honour. A sign you can adapt to an ever-changing reality and be resilient in the face of a volatile market.

Now, more than ever, it pays to be proficient in more than one field.

A Non-Linear Life Is The New Normal

What do I mean by non-linear?

A life that follows no one path, but deviates at various points opening up new routes for you to travel down. The opposite is the linear path, where you remain on the same road, ignoring the ability to choose another route.

This may have been a viable path in the past, but now it’s one fraught with danger. What if the skill you’re proficient in becomes redundant? What if the company you work for goes bust? You can no longer rely on a ‘stable job,’ especially in a world as volatile as ours.

My own path in life has mirrored a non-linear path. I graduated from university, ended up working in a betting shop until I moved to Australia for a year, where I refurbished an IKEA store. Then I moved to New Zealand and worked in a variety of jobs such as landscape gardening, pipe laying and for a home delivery company.

After this, I moved to Barcelona to teach English, set up my own travel blog, moved back to England after two years and worked in an office until I quit to become self-employed two years ago.

Had I described this path to my teachers in high school, or a careers advisor at university, they would have had a heart attack! My life has gone against all the advice I was given but you know what? It’s turned out alright.

If I had followed their advice, I’m not sure where I would have ended up or whether I’d be better off. I doubt it. All of the jobs I worked in taught me something. I learnt a new skill, developed as a person and gained fresh perspectives on life.

I now have a varied skill set, one I can apply to a multitude of jobs. You may believe it’s in your best interest to find a job and stick with it, but that’s not always the case.

Working in a job can become stale. Companies can fold, or you could be fired. When you develop skills such as writing or coding, you insure yourself against the future. You invest in yourself long-term. You make yourself resilient against the changes that will inevitably occur.

You become adaptable. In a world that’s always changing and likely to change beyond recognition in our lifetimes, it’s your skills, not a career that will pay the bills.

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