by Mark Guterman and Dan King
Washington is awash in JobSpeak — job creators, job destroyers, job stealers, job avoiders — much of it political posturing designed for news spin and talk shows. Whichever side of the political spectrum you stand, we can all agree that the jobs situation in this country is a mess. President Obama recently unveiled a jobs plan designed to help Americans find, get, and keep work — and Congress just as quickly sought ways to deep-six it. The hard truth is: they all have jobs (and with great benefits), so their rhetoric lacks the urgency the rest of us feel every day.
There are approximately 14 million unemployed, many of whom have been out of work for a year or more — and they’re facing a new form of discrimination as increasing numbers of employers permanently eliminate them from consideration as job candidates. Added to the millions of underemployed, misemployed, and unhappily employed, it’s clear that some sort of jobs plan is vitally necessary. If you’re one of the many downtrodden, discouraged, disheartened out there, what can you do?
For starters, you need to control what you can control. As the ever-wise Lily Tomlin once said: “We’re all in this alone.” You may not be able to impact current economic conditions, but you can put some energy into designing your own individual jobs plan. No policy or program will do that for you. Direct your thoughts toward actions that are within your power to control.
Unfortunately, most thinking today focuses on quick fixes and short-term solutions rather than a process of planning for a life-time of meaningful work. But, ironically, when you focus on meaningful work and life-long employability, the field of play and range of possibilities expands dramatically. There are three aspects of a robust individual jobs plan:
Pay close attention to your competence, both current and future. That is, perform your work well, but stay focused on how your performance impacts your future. Assess your valuable skills now and identify those you will need for the future. Envision and plan for a number of possible outcomes, each grounded in your strengths, interests and aspirations. Build your capacity to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, with the resilience to make adjustments that will help you move from where you are now to where you want to go.
Be mindful that you are personally responsible for your choices. Sure, sometimes the control feels like it’s taken away from you, but you ultimately can choose how you will respond. Remain alert to opportunities around you and believe and trust in a future filled with unlimited possibilities yet to be created. Develop an acute awareness and perspective that lets you learn from the past, appreciate the present, and envision the future.
While competence and intention are both essential to a strong jobs plan, it is a sense of purpose that ultimately leads to satisfaction and meaning at work. Purpose answers the questions: What am I here to achieve? And what will fulfill me along the way? Whether you see your work as a means to an end, a contribution to something worthwhile, or a step toward building a lasting legacy, you must be ever mindful of how your work aligns with your purpose. Know your values and remain true to them.
Again, the wisdom of Lily Tomlin: “Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest Americans. It’s the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then — we elected them.”
Whatever jobs plan Congress and the President agree or disagree to sign off on, it doesn’t change the central point, which is that you need to have your own individual jobs plan. Each of us can act now to develop meaningful life-long employability by taking a steady and disciplined approach to the development of current and future competence, working with greater intention, and continuously clarifying and committing to our purpose. The current economic uncertainty will pass, but your career will continue. It’s really the only thing within your control right now.