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Should work be “fun”?

What do today’s generations really crave in a career?

I friend of mine (let’s call him Ted) recently posted on facebook asking about how important having a “fun” job is when searching for a career. Of course everyone wishes they had fun at work, but in all seriousness, how much enjoyment is a reasonable expectation when you need something that also provides steady income? Is it spoiled snowflake behaviour to expect your career to be fun?

Ted is a 30-something guy who’s drifted around most of his life without ever settling firmly in one place or career path. He’s smart, but he’s also made many poor choices along the way, and is now realising it’s time to get way more serious about building some important parts of his life.

That’s a good representation of a large percentage of Xennials and Millennials. There’s a huge generational shift going on around how people think about life priorities, work, career, and income. Throw your board game of Life out the window. It’s no longer normal to follow the old beaten path.

If you’re a baby boomer, or to some extent GenX, a steady career was honourable even if not that enjoyable. Employers respected their employees more, and with years of hard work you could move up the ladder and eventually be in a position of comfort and wealth. People would work all their lives (often at the same job, and often with little joy) with that expectation, because in those days it was the reliable choice. It was the old American Dream.

That world has evaporated. Employers don’t provide the same opportunities, and employees no longer find satisfaction in the status quo.

The new world of work

The millennial shift in mindset if far bigger than just career. It involves priorities across the whole life spectrum. Travel and other experiences are now more important than material possessions. Career continues to take priority over marriage and family. But now even careers are taking a back seat to other life experiences.

Why? Because the current generations of worker care more about one thing than ever before: meaning.

Traditional career trajectories are no longer fulfilling the core desires of this new generation. Work for the sake of work doesn’t come close to cutting it anymore. The temptation of money alone is becoming less and less alluring.

Employers that aren’t adapting are failing. Employment models are rapidly changing.

The rise of freelancing and the gig economy

Part of this shift is that job security is a thing of the past. Since the global financial crisis of 2008 (but beginning even before that) we’ve seen a huge drop it the reliability of any job as a long-term career option. Both employers and employees are not expecting work engagements to last as nearly long as they did a generation ago.

Running your own freelance business has, in many ways, become a more stable and reliable career than traditional employment. It’s no surprise that the number of entrepreneurs, freelancers, and contract working has skyrocketed during the last 10 years.

However there’s an even more fundamental force at play here. It comes back to “meaning”.

Today’s workers crave meaning. They want a career that’s meaningful even at the cost of less income. They want to know they are doing something good for society, helpful to the environment, or valuable to the people and places they care about. They want to feel challenged and rewarded for their solutions. And they want to work for and with people who they genuinely enjoy. This is how today’s generation of workers get satisfaction and career fulfilment.

Freelancing can offer more opportunities for this type of fulfilment. The variety of clients and projects that running an independent business can bring is an automatic boredom buster for those who get tired of doing the same things for the same people over and over again.

Being your own boss and choosing your clients means you have control over who you work for, and you can pick only interesting, meaningful work to engage in.

Machines will make this even more important

AI and robots are clearly going to transform the work landscape in the next 20 years. More work being done by machines will mean less (of some kinds of) work for humans. If UBI — or something similar — becomes a necessary thing, it will open up people to the opportunity of more leisure time and/or more time for passion projects and work they find meaningful but otherwise didn’t have the time to do. The necessity for meaningful work will be increasing exponentially.

Couple that with the ever growing backlash towards corporations and the 1%. The anti-capitalist sentiments that make working for “the man” the most morally dreadful thing some people could imagine. That type of person has an innate desire to create their own ethical, sustainable, meaningful business. Let’s do all we can as a society to support the visions of ambitious people like that who want to create meaningful work, even if they have to fight an uphill battle to get there. That’s the type of employment more and more workers will crave, so we need to be building heaps of it to satisfy the employment demands of current and future generations.

No, you don’t need a fun job

But chances are you do need a meaningful one.

Fun is fleeting. Purpose and meaning are truly empowering.

Are you at a crossroads in your life, trying to map out your ideal career? Are you fed up with your 9–5 and want something more? Or are you simply desperate for any job that pays the bills?

We’d all do good to remember that hunting for a “fun” job isn’t what will bring you lasting fulfilment from your work. Align your career with a deeper purpose — that which gives you opportunity for meaningful, truly satisfying work — and you’ll create something lasting.

If that career isn’t available to you, start a business. There’s never been an easier time to do it. Build your own sustainable career choice that’s about far more than just the pay check. At the very least, it will improve you. It may even help improve the world.

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Benek Lisefski

Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 20 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.

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