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"You can be one of the people who is redefining success. You don’t have to give up everything in your personal life to 'get to the top.' You can decide what is success for you."The American Dream is about the pursuit of happiness. It’s in the Constitution, but it’s also etched in our brains. The US is built on the protestant work ethic: hard work wins. It is built on the capitalist idea that your scorecard is your bank account. The American Dream is inextricably linked to the accumulation of money and stuff.
"You can be one of the people who is redefining success. You don’t have to give up everything in your personal life to 'get to the top.' You can decide what is success for you."The American Dream is about the pursuit of happiness. It’s in the Constitution, but it’s also etched in our brains. The US is built on the protestant work ethic: hard work wins. It is built on the capitalist idea that your scorecard is your bank account. The American Dream is inextricably linked to the accumulation of money and stuff. The baby boomers were the last generation to buy into this dream, and as a whole, they have been massively disappointed. Baby boomers assumed they would get a lot of money and then buy time at the end – their retirement. They worked longer hours than any other generation. Their children watched them put off their dreams until they paid their dues, only to find themselves laid off mid-career, or underfunded for retirement late in their career. The corporate ladder they climbed was pulled out from under them. Their savings were depleted in a series of market crashes. And their McMansions, trophies of their workplace accomplishments, are riding on mortgages that are underwater. Generation X, the children of the baby boomers, is the first group that was faced, flat-out, with the challenge that the American Dream had to change because it was no longer available to young people. Baby boomers left them at home, as latchkey kids, and then didn’t give them jobs, because there was no room in the workforce. Generation X was the first generation in US history to earn less than their parents. Baby boomers hoarded the resources necessary to reach the American Dream, so Generation X had to think of something else to strive for. Generation Y, born between the 1980s and 90s, also had to shift their idea of what adult life is about in order to have something to aim for. They graduated with more debt from college than any generation in history. Entry-level jobs offered such low salaries that they didn’t have the ability to support themselves. Now, as adults, they know life can’t be about a house in the suburbs and a car and two kids. They don’t have the money. These generations have redefined the meaning of success and created a New American Dream. Instead of aiming for power, money, and prestige, they prioritize family, flexibility, and variety: in other words, they pursue interestingness instead of happiness. Generation X instigated the change, and Generation Y, with its massive numbers, is the foot army that has made the Generation X intellectual shifts reality. In this New American Dream, you no longer have to put off your hopes and dreams until you’ve worked 40 years, like the baby boomers did. You can have an engaging, rewarding career without spending such a large percentage of your life doing work you don’t like at the office. The key to getting the life you want is to be able to see that the old paths don’t work. Instead of feeling like it’s high-risk to buck the system, recognize that the paths that baby boomers took are simply not available. You are walking off a cliff when you choose one of those paths. You are walking off a ladder with no rungs. In the New American Dream, the safest thing to do for your career is to choose a path that is engaging to you. No more paying dues. No more choosing graduate school because you think it’s safe. No more doing work that’s not well suited to you. These are no longer paths to the American Dream. The New American dream is about substance and process, not the end result. Your career must be that way as well. You can start thinking this way by reimagining the purpose of a job. We have seen steady decline in job satisfaction in the United States, no matter if the employment rate is very high or very low. Even when people have control over their time and their workload, they still report that they are unhappy in their jobs, according to polls from The Conference Board.The problem is that people are looking to their jobs for the meaning of life. Forget this. Even people who feed starving children with the Peace Corps have crisis of meaning. (For example, what is the point of feeding one child when six will die?) The meaning of life is elusive, and you must put a lot of time and energy into finding it.The job hunt is separate. The job is something you have to do to support yourself. Since you’re going to be doing it for a good portion of your life, you should look for some basics: people who respect you and your personal life. A company that is honest. A job that uses your skills and experience. A job that challenges your abilities without overwhelming you. The most pleasurable work provides a perfect balance between too much and too little, in terms of both amount and difficulty, according to Diane Fassel, the chief executive of workplace survey firm Newmeasures and author of the book Working Ourselves to Death. Work does not need to give your life a grand purpose in order to be a good experience. The key to being happy at work is not so much finding the perfect career as it is finding yourself. The more self-knowledge you have, the happier you will be. Stop looking at your job to solve your problems and look inside yourself, instead. A career is like a mate. The relationship is limited by what you bring to the table. If you are not happy with yourself, you won’t be happy with the match-up. Make friends with yourself and with other people, and your job, whatever it is, might start looking better because you’re not asking so much from it.In fact, online dating is not a bad model for evaluating a job. You should never write in your dating profile that you want a mate to make you feel fulfilled – that’s asking much too much from a single person, and it’s a good setup for a bad relationship. It’s the same with work, yet we complain all the time that our jobs are not fulfilling.Dating services ask that you be as specific as possible in your desires. So try that for a job. Here’s what I would ask for in a job, and it’s the same thing I looked for in a spouse:FairFun Mind-expandingInterestingConsistent with my valuesLeaves space for the other parts of my lifeWhen your desires are reasonable and you don’t expect your job to create meaning in your life, you’re much more likely to find a good match.Adam Copeland is an employee at Mirror Image, an Internet content delivery network. He has changed jobs within his company several times, and he explains that the genesis of each move was the desire to increase his learning curve.“I’m not even 30 yet,” he says, “I wanted to try something different.”He also took plenty of time for fun and travel. “I don’t need a castle and a moat,” he says, in a nod to the baby boomer tendency to work long hours for a huge home and put off enjoying it until later. “I’d rather have something in the realm of time to travel,” Copeland says. For Copeland, making travel a priority was another way to create fulfilling work throughout a career, rather than just at the end. Fulfillment is a lifestyle that balances interesting work and interesting breaks. And this balance gives rise to the type of job that is fulfilling for its ability to compromise on many levels to get the benefits of work and play right now, without waiting.For others, a dream job allows time for spending time contributing to the community in a way that matters. It’s impractical to wait until the end of one’s career, to retire from work and then start doing good. If nothing else, it’s a long time to wait to do good.There are people whose dream job is to grow something big, like a startup. Doing something big is a classic dream, but what’s special about that dream today is that people focus on process – the excitement of going to work everyday and learning and growing at a very fast pace – rather than the outcome, which is a lot of money. The dream job today is about how you get to the money, rather than getting the money itself.
* * * * *You, too, can be one of the people who is redefining success. You don’t have to give up everything in your personal life to “get to the top.” You can decide what is success for you. Let’s talk about what this means in practice. You don’t have to play the face-time game. We’ve known forever that it isn’t necessary to be in the office from 9 to 5 every day to get work done, but many of us have missed family events only to sit at a desk all day getting pretty much nothing done because of the stress of missing a family event. And there didn’t used to be any option; if you wanted a successful career, you made sure coworkers saw that you were putting in the hours.A good portion of the workforce has been requesting flextime for decades, but the requests have gone unheeded. We have Gen Y to thank for forcing the switch, because if Gen Yers can’t leave the building whenever they want, they’ll walk out the door and never come back. Face the truth: boomers weren’t willing to go that far, but they sure are benefiting from it. Now they have more opportunities for flextime, too.We all want to be judged by the work we do, not the hours we put in. And what could be more fair than this? You don’t have to do work that’s meaningless. Gen Y kids grew up with parents scheduling every minute of their day. They were told TV is bad and reading is good, and are more educated than any generation in history. They just spent 18 years learning to be productive with their time, so they’re not going to settle for any photocopying/coffee stirring job. It’s great for all of us that the biggest demographic at work today – Generation Y – is not willing to waste time at work. This means we can all put our foot down to work that doesn’t matter. We all, intuitively, want meaningful work. We all want to be stimulated by our jobs, and we all want to understand how we’re contributing to the world at large. Why should anyone have to wait until retirement age to start demanding that?If no one is willing to do thankless work, then companies will more and more be forced to change the structure of jobs so that each job has boring parts and parts that encourage personal growth – jobs at the highest levels and the lowest levels. They will be forced to create jobs that allow people to lead an interesting life. These days, the workplace can be restructured so that we all spend time at the copy machine and time getting coffee for the team in exchange for each of us getting to do some meaningful work. And if work can be in some way meaningful for all of us, then the workplace in general will be a better place to spend our time.You don’t have to work with jerks. Instead of putting up with an jerk in the office, you can disengage before trying to get along with him or her. This is more and more common, according to a report by Stan Smith, national director of Next Generation Initiatives at consulting firm Deloitte. People have no desire to bother with somebody they don’t like.This is a great way to function. After all, according to research by Stanford professor Bob Sutton, the cost of putting up with a jerk in a company is about $160,000. Moreover, Harvard researcher Tiziana Casciaro found that people hate working with high-performing jerks so much that they would rather work with someone incompetent who’s nice.You can leave. It’s a good career move now to change jobs every two years. Your reasons might be that the work isn’t a good fit, or the learning curve isn’t steep enough, or you don’t like your coworkers. In the New American Dream, you can change jobs to get on fun teams and interesting projects instead of changing jobs to get money or titles. You can be collaborative instead of competitive. You can drop out of the workforce, because how else can you actually say that work is supporting life, rather than the other way around? You can take time off from a secure job to travel to countries on the do-not-travel list. You can do startup after startup after startup when corporate America does not offer jobs consistent with the quest for an interesting life. And you can choose engagement over prestige.The new, better dream job has a steep learning curve and freedom to contribute to the company in ways that are unique to oneself. If your job doesn’t have that, you can change it.
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