What defines a successful career is evolving rapidly as human beings continue to live and stay healthy for longer than ever before. According to exciting new research by the Stanford Center on Longevity into human life expectancies, living to the age of 100 will be commonplace within the next quarter-century. Can you imagine what that means for someone’s professional life?
The past tended to favor a single career from one’s 20s to 60s, punctuated by a modest retirement ceremony in the break room and squares of grocery-store cake on styrofoam plates.
Future workers, however, could realistically have five (or more) careers in their lifetimes—and never step foot inside an office building, for that matter. This new “map of life” is certainly a thrilling prospect, but it will also require us to fully embrace the art of reinvention and commit to lifelong learning.
There’s no doubt that a longer working life will present unforeseen challenges and interesting opportunities. So how can today’s young professionals start making the most of their long and many-chaptered stories?
NEVER STOP RELEARNING
The future belongs to those willing to grow and adapt to new business realities. Recently, that meant taking the opportunity of video communication and turning it into a productive remote working environment. In the coming years and decades, it could mean reassessing current skills and seeking additional training to grow in their current role —or switching careers entirely to align with modified life plans.
Working professionals should take a couple of days every year dedicated to seriously thinking about where they are in life, their careers, their industry, their skills, and where they want to go next.
Tomorrow’s career paths won’t be straight lines. Learning is even more important in the new map of life because it admits that humans will need to take detours. We will have prime working and parenting eras, for instance.
Living to 100 allows for the idea of leaving and reentering the world of work due to different priorities during different points of one’s life—years dedicated to work interspersed with time to raise young children, care for elderly parents, etc.
In the not-so-distant future of work, expect employers to develop a system where workers can adjust the number of hours on the job to accommodate your schedule and promote work-life balance. In the meantime, you should keep seeking opportunities to grow and learn so you’re ready to take that next career step when the time is right. Sharpen your skills and learn new ones every chance you get.
FOCUS ON FOUNDATIONAL SOFT SKILLS
While adaptability is vital, not everything will change. People still need to ground their work in foundational skills and principles to ensure that they can produce great things and communicate effectively with others. The devices we use may change, but our human need for connection will not.
As we expand our virtual communication, soft skills will become the new hard skills. Tech advances will likely occur so rapidly that technical reskilling will become the norm. Employees and leaders who are more adept at connecting, leading, and collaborating will be the ones who experience the most success in the new world of work.
How do you know if your communication skills need an upgrade? For starters, ask those around you. Survey bosses and colleagues how they feel about your communication style, overall effectiveness, and areas where you can improve.
Beyond that, you may find it beneficial to take a business writing course, join Toastmasters to work on your public speaking, or enroll in a presentation class to learn to communicate with data and graphics. Continual professional improvement is the name of the game.
MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being will be even more important as the road gets longer. This could mean taking a sabbatical, enjoying an extended break to watch your family grow up, or even traveling the world.
Young professionals must establish a work-life balance as soon as possible because the stresses of adult life only grow more complicated as the years go on. Ask anyone on the wrong side of 40. Finding balance early in your professional career will help create boundaries and buffers when life inevitably throws you a curveball.
It’s admittedly tough to anticipate what questions young people should be asking themselves to discover how much time they’ll need for certain stages of their lives and how to spend it wisely, but a good start would be seeking advice and wisdom from older generations. That could be a mentorship opportunity at work, or maybe reaching out to aunts and uncles you admire in your personal life. Ask what they wish they knew when they were younger and what they regret the most. Take their words to heart.
Whether you live to 25, 50, or 100, life will always be fragile and far too short. Invest in yourself, in your relationships, and in your family. The true value of a 100-year life is to find joy in the journey, no matter where it leads, and help others to do the same.
What will people do with their lives now that they’re living and working for longer? Right now, it will be an experiment that people figure out as they go. But the more we can learn and test the boundaries of what could be possible, the more intentional we can be along the way to ensure that we make the most out of the opportunity to live a couple of decades longer.