The Social Age is a time of constant change: careers are fractured and we’re likely to change direction many times. As the nature of work evolves and the opportunities presented by social collaborative technology increase, we are spoilt for choice as to what we can do with our skills and our emotional energy. Not to mention our time. I’ve spent today with four different people, working in wildly different areas, but all with one thing in common: they’ve all changed direction more than once. In the Social Age, organisations no longer own your career: we all individually make our choices and create our own structure. Today i just want to explore what that freedom looks like and to think about how it may sometimes be constrained by circumstance or skills.
Our choices of how and where we work may be influenced by lifestyle: we may be studying, raising children, we may enjoy the nightlife in a particular town or want to be able to walk the dog in the open fields at night. Lifestyle choices can cause us to make choices about career that may involve compromises in where we live and what we earn. These choices may be limited by our skills: the two forces playing off against each other. We may desire to do one thing, but be limited by our capability or capacity.
Or maybe simply we lack opportunity: location and skill can be a barrier to opportunity (although active engagement in social communities can provide opportunity wherever we are). Opportunity isn’t just limited by geography though: it may be limited by the permissions given to us by society. If you’re too old, your choices may be limited. If you’re a woman in some parts (some may argue most parts) of the world, your choices may be more limited: in some parts, heavily constrained by the views and permissions of society. Or perhaps more accurately the men in that society. But social permissions or disenfranchisement can run deeply in other ways too: does your accent sound right? We can be excluded, our choices limited because of the ways we sound, preconceptions around class or even our looks.
Choices can be constrained by awareness: i know i want to do something else, but i simply have no idea what. Awareness can be a source of lethargy: better the devil you know if you don’t know what the other devil looks like. Awareness can also be constrained by others, who have a self interest in keeping us in our current role or situation.
An obvious influence on our choices is finance: we simply can’t afford to change, although that limitation may be illusory. In the Social Age, careers are often curtailed through redundancy in any case, so the financial risk may not be avoided through inaction. There’s also often a gulf between how much money we think we need and how much money we actually need: so often we fool ourselves into inflated consumption of bigger cars, more expensive clothes or larger houses that, on the whole, don’t leave us fulfilled but do leave us in debt.
And desire? Our choices may be limited because we desire security, stability, a clear view ahead in waters that are choppy at best. This desire can guide us into leaving our choices in the hands of others, which means they’re not really choices at all.
But i don’t mean to paint a negative picture: just that our supposed freedoms may be influenced or limited in ways that we don’t immediately appreciate. The Social Age presents challenges to both individuals and organisations about how we structure and plan our learning, our careers, our lives. It’s worth exploring the pressures and limitations that can constrain those choices to better enable us to build the right portfolio, to learn and build the skills to overcome constraints.