Making the decision to leave a job, or a career, is rarely easy. When I was 25 I was working as a solicitor in a commercial firm and I was experiencing serious career dissonance. I couldn’t shake the sense that I was doing the wrong thing. I knew my unease wasn’t as simple as having a few bad weeks, a tricky boss or working around the clock. It was bigger than that.
But, as much as I knew corporate law wasn’t for me, it was hard to shake the fear that leaving would be the wrong move. I had a business degree but I didn’t have any other technical work experience so what else could I do?
I worried that quitting would leave my career in disarray before it had properly started. Without a crystal ball it was impossible to envisage exactly what would lie ahead so for a few months I just deliberated in my head.
In the end my hand was forced by the autoimmune disease I’d been diagnosed with six years earlier. A decent bout of illness gave me the jolt I needed to make a move. I didn’t know what was ahead but I resigned anyway.
I was fortunate enough to land a job in the media (where I have happily stayed) and I’ve often thought getting that first job was the universe rewarding me for making the daunting decision to leave the relative security of a career in law. The truth is the reason I got that job was more pragmatic than it was karmic.
The editor, who was kind enough to give me that first job, said from the outset it was my legal background that made me the appropriate candidate. He was willing to look beyond what I had done and take a bet on what I could do. That approach to new recruits is hardly novel (it’s the reason the media is heavily populated with ex-lawyers and corporates) but it is set to become the way of the world.
Deloitte partner Juliet Bourke says new research into future working trends shows that individuals will increasingly be looked at for all of their skills and life experiences, not just their technical expertise.
“The best metaphor is that each of us carries a backpack into work that contains all of our knowledge, our life experiences and our connections,” Bourke says. “The value we bring to a particular moment is not just what we do with our day to day. It’s also everything we carry.”
Speaking to me following the release of a new report by Deloitte and AMP Capital, It’s (almost) all about me. Workplace 2030: Built for us Bourke says in the future employees will be rewarded for everything they bring to the table. Everything from an individual’s country of birth to their various caring responsibilities informs our insight and Bourke says the task for employers will be tapping into it.
“Leaders will have to be intentional about it,” Bourke says. “They can’t just look at a person’s technical role they will need to unleash what is in those backpacks.”
The career of former Powerhouse Museum chief executive Dawn Casey exemplifies how effective this approach can be in unlocking an individual’s value. Casey worked as a secretary in the education department but was also a leader in the Aboriginal community.
“If you only saw her as a secretary your interactions would revolve around booking meetings, answering phones and organising diaries,” Bourke says. “But her boss looked at her personal backpack and because of it brought her in to help devise strategies for an Aboriginal education program.”
Tapping into personal experience in this way is a win for the employer and the individual. Bourke says these opportunities are rife if people are willing to look for them and will be crucial in the future.
“These days because people are cycling through organisations and careers they have all sorts of things in their backpacks,” Bourke says. “This report shows the way to win in the future is not going to be about more hours it will be about getting insight faster with greater complexity than anyone else.” Bourke says the best way to make that happen is by combining what is in those backpacks.
The lesson for employers and employees is the same; we are all much more than a job title. We can bring more to a table than our professional qualifications and our technical capabilities. Whether we realise it or not we all have a backpack filled with different experiences that are valuable at work.
In a roundabout way I suppose it’s the reason I haven’t regretted pursuing law despite the fact I didn’t stay long. Before I took the plunge I worried that leaving my job would make the whole experience worthless or wasted. Fortunately it wasn’t because everything I learned there, from the technical to the personal, came with me. Once something’s in our metaphorical backpacks it doesn’t come out.