Laboring for yourself

Career Opportunities podcast logoThis long weekend brings the Labor Day holiday here in the US. This holiday marks the end of summer for most people and brings everyone back into the office, and back to school. Each year, I end up writing something about Labor Day because it seems an excellent time to contemplate our work and our career. Many of us have had the benefit of a recent vacation from our work and with the kids back in school, a little time to quietly think.


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This Labor Day leaves us with a host of issues. Unemployment and underemployment are at an all time high. We have many people who have been out of work for so long that their benefits are also running out. The economy is stagnant at best, and government is thrashing about for any possible solutions it can find. When everything is in such turmoil we need to turn to the one place where we have direct control, direct influence over our lives — ourselves.

I know that many of you might feel powerless in your career today. Everything, it seems, buffets you from left and right, pushes you from job to job or off to unemployment. What possible control do you have over your career when the usual forces are so out of control? It may sound strange, but the only true control we have over our lives comes from within. Regardless of the external situation, the choices and decisions we make each day effect us deeply and more directly than anything from the outside.

If you are unemployed, the biggest choice you need to make is how to get working, and stay working, in a world where traditional jobs are hard to find. In this particular case, I think the future has arrived, even if we are not yet ready for it. In the coming years, the concept of a person holding a long-term position at a long standing company is going to be shaken even further. As workers, we will be called on more and more to create a career out of a succession of smaller jobs or projects — moving between them as needed. This is a foreign concept to all but the most entrepreneurial among us although perhaps less so for younger workers who are already enmeshed in this change.

What does this mean for you and I? First, it means that not only do we have to take responsibility for finding and building our career, we also need to find ways of creating jobs for ourselves and others. This might mean convincing an existing company that they need your skills in X, Y, Z, even if they don’t officially have a job description that matches those skills. It might mean starting your own small company or consultancy to sell your skills to companies who can’t or won’t hire you into a full time position. It might mean working part time for a variety of companies instead of full-time at one.

These changes will assuredly mean that your work life will consist of a number of smaller projects, rather than one, well-defined “job.” In this case you need to remember one important fact. Make sure you are laboring for yourself much more than you are laboring for any particular company. Sure, you will do the best work possible for all your employers, but you also need to do the best work possible for you. Make sure you are adequately rewarded for each position or project before accepting the work. If not, don’t be afraid of turning down work that doesn’t meet your needs, either financially or emotionally.

In the past, we often continued in a job because of the other benefits it might have offered. Your work today is stripped bare of any traditional sense of loyalty or stability. You have to do what is best for you at all times. There must be clear and direct benefits on each side of the employment equation or you are risking your future career and livelihood. Labor for yourself first. Insure you are getting what you need from a job. I can guarantee that your employer will be doing exactly the same thing.

Take this Labor Day as a starting point to a new view of laboring for yourself, regardless of your current job situation. Remember that, in the end, you are selling your skills, knowledge and time to your employer and deserve to be well compensated for them. Anyone or any company that does not realize this fact probably isn’t deserving of your time.

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