Do you know that you have a “work style”?
There are “inward-looking” strategies that you can do to get your own work style in balance. And by work style, I mean the way in which you do work. It’s that simple. Now this is something that you have quite a bit of control over, even though you may not think you do. There’s quite a bit of flexibility in terms of the type of work style you can possess.
I can say this with complete confidence that we live in an age in which work can become the most flexible part of our lives, in that there are many options available. Maybe you’re not seeing them at the time, but they are there. If you have a traditional job, many people can now work from home at least part of the time. And, there’s never been more educational opportunities, whether through the workplace or outside of it. Our educational system is very strong, despite everything that’s going on with it, and there are always a lot of opportunities to learn new things. Community colleges are an inexpensive option where you can learn some great things, from business skills — such as marketing — to a new language. So as long as you have the ability to learn, the ability to apply yourself, work style will become something that you can change, you can alter, you can really shape to fit what you want to do in life.
Here’s another perspective of work style. I want to tell you a story. There’s a fellow who’s a neighbor of mine. His name is Jeff, and I really don’t know what to think about him because Jeff works in another part of the country, but he lives in my neighborhood. But for four or five days out of the week he’s on the West Coast, and I live in the Midwest. So I’ve never really seen this guy much; I’ve actually only seen him a few times.
One time my wife asked his wife, “Well, what do you think of Jeff working on the other side of the country most of the week?” And I wasn’t there to witness her expression, but she said, “Well, you know, it seems to work out for us.” But I’m thinking to myself, “Well, this really probably isn’t the best thing for their family life. But, maybe it does help their relationship; I don’t know.” Now I’m not really judging what they’re doing, but a lot of people face this decision. They think the job is everything. They say, “This is the best job I’m going to have. This is the best employer I’m going to have, and I’m really not going to change it. I’m going to hold on to what I have for any number of reasons. Maybe I’m on the advancement track; maybe I’m getting the best compensation package I’m ever going to see in my life.”
And I think that this thinking is dangerous in a lot of different ways because, in this kind of economy and this kind of world, with technology changing everything, globalization, outsourcing, so many factors pulling at the workplace, so many things that are changing the way we work and live and integrate these things into our life, the old notion that one company is going to really consume most of your career is just out the door. It really is. Gone are the days of putting in 40-plus years and getting the gold watch.
Here’s an interesting percentage. The average time we spend working at a job, is about 6.8 years in the U.S. That may become even less as time goes on. You compare that with what most people in France, Germany, and Japan spend — at least 10 years on a job. So that doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but probably in Europe and in Japan they spend a lot longer than that on the job. And Americans, and most people in North America, they spend a lot of time looking and job hopping. And they spend a lot of time doing that when they’re on the job.
The average American works 350 hours a year. That’s 10 weeks more than the average Western European. Why do people work so hard? Why do they work so long? Well, there isn’t really the whole social system in place here that gives us job security. My wife comes from Ireland, where they have a whole system in place. If people lose their jobs, they will have a very secure system under them to get them retraining, to help them out when they’re looking for work, even supply a car, a housing allowance if they can’t find work. That doesn’t exist in the United States. So obviously we tend to be more dedicated to our employers because we’re far more invested in our career and we’re far more insecure.
That’s why we have to focus on what our work style is all about, and it just isn’t working more. It just isn’t devoting as much time as you can to the office. It means thinking more creatively about work. It means thinking about other things you could be doing. Setting some priorities. And if you’re thinking, “Well, you know, I’ve gotten to the age I really can’t learn anything new. I really can’t do anything different. I really can’t put myself in a different mode of thinking about work,” I’ll tell you, that is not true. It’s never been true. There are a lot of people throughout history who have started in one career and ended up in another.
Albert Einstein is my favorite example. He started out as a patent clerk and then became the scientist that we know. Edgar Lee Masters, the fellow who wrote Spoon River Anthology, the classic, started out as a lawyer. He ended up with poet on his résumé. William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekhov were both physicians, and they ended up being writers. Charles Ives, the great composer, spent a whole career as an insurance executive and became a very innovative composer.
So there’s a whole list of people throughout history, and really you probably know some of them, who have started in one area and ended up in another, and you know something? This is the natural course of human evolution, that we do learn things. We can learn to do different things. There are entire industries being built on that principle right now, as many people find themselves out of work and need to be retrained in a new occupation or business. We do already know what we love to do, and we just have to find a way of doing it. Then you combine the best of both worlds; you’re doing what you love and doing it the way that fits your work style. That will make your work life extraordinary. You can make it happen.
From the John Wasik Nightingale-Conant program The Late-Start Investor.