Career Change is
Not the Only Option

Many people considering a career change
Or doing a bit of career planning
Hold what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”.
These are jobs
The point of which
Others cannot see.
In other words,
Jobs that add no discernible value to society.

Worse, a significant number of these job holders
Describe their own jobs as “bullshit”.
This is a special form of psychological torment,
Not dissimilar to Gregory Bateson’s double-bind.
Which means many of these people look to change their career paths.
For reasons as varied as the people themselves.

But rather than considering a change of career
How about reassessing your career objectives?
Is it a means for financial and social advancement?
The “why” you work.
Or is it a broader path,
Upon which professional and personal development merge.
The “how” you work.

Career Change Considerations

Because each of you has come to this situation
On different paths;
Different career paths, different life paths.
There is no one answer to the question, “Should I change my career?”
It is not binary, “yes” or “no”.
There are too many nuances.

In the year 2000 Steve Krug wrote a book
He called it “Don’t Make Me Think”.
Because it was about web usability.
But usability is not content.
Yet that adage has crept into web content as well.
And so we have sites that need no more effort
Than the effort to scroll and click.

Importantly, (and this is your first opportunity to click away)
I’m not Steve Krug.
Because I expect you to think.
Read and think. Hard.
Decisions about career change deserve nothing less.

You may well have arrived here, with a question
To which the answer is “change your career”.
But it is important to know the reason for doing so.
In fact, you might not want a new career,
You may need only to get this one in perspective.

So we’re going to put the focus on the work
Rather than the outcome.
The process,
Rather than the results.
There is no point doing career planning if you don’t need to.

Career Change Context

John Kay, in his book “Obliquity”
Makes the point
That we rarely achieve what we set out to achieve
In fact, most successes come about indirectly.

So, too, with careers.
It is not until we stand and look back
That we see why things happened in the order they did.
Not cause and effect, this happened because that happened
Rather, that that had to happen so that this could.

And, so, we come to you.
There is a very good chance
That you are a male middle manager 45+
(or that you know one)

Being of that age in these times (the 2020s)
You are facing a confluence
Of four major spheres of change.

They are:

  • personal
  • organisational
  • societal
  • technological

And right now they are all in flux.

In times gone by (one or two generations ago)
The personal sphere in flux was the mid-life crisis.
In times gone by, the other three spheres were relatively stable.

You could expect, for instance:

  • jobs for life,
  • clear role expectations,
  • technology that changed at human speed.

That is no longer true.

So the collision is more pronounced.

This four-way collision,
Coupled with a feeling of
No. Way. Out.
(Bateson’s double-bind)
Means that the suicide rate for over 45s
Is the fastest growing across all demographics.

The stakes are high.

So it is well worth the effort
To work out
How to deal with this situation
Before suicidal thoughts enter the frame.

In the first instance,
That means accepting one’s lot
(however temporarily)
And trying to make the most of
What you have, in the place you have it.

In the second,
It means finding a way of coping
With the massive changes going on in your life.
And re-finding the job satisfaction you once had.

Craftsmanship as a Career

Or the pursuit of useful beauty…

Craftsmanship conjures up images
Of solo practitioners working with raw materials
Turning them into items of useful beauty.

What is useful beauty?
It is that beauty that comes from the things we use on a daily basis
And take pleasure from using.

Soetsu Yanagi’s exquisite book,
“The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty”,
has this to say,

“The virtue of folkcrafts is that one feels no obtruding personality in them.
The thing shines, not the maker.”

He goes on to say that a true craftsman must transcend individuality
Not suppress it.

I want to explore with you
How we can take this notion of the thing shining through,
Not the maker,
Into the world of work in the service industries.
Those industries where nothing tangible is created
Yet our experience of them is often more intense than
That we have of those things tangible.

Craftsmanship in Service

As well as being 45+
It is likely that you work in such an industry.
After all, they account for about 70% of GDP in the countries of the OECD
And employ about 70% of the workforce.

Some of you will have experience on the provision of service,
All will have experienced receipt of service.

What has this to do with craftsmanship?

Quite a lot, actually.
If you are not to change careers,
Imbuing your current role with a sense of craftsmanship
Is the only way to get through these years of disruption.

Richard Sennett in his book, “The Craftsman”
Defines craftsmanship as “doing a job well for its own sake”
In other words,
Rather than working for potential advancement,
Put the focus on the work itself.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”
Has this to say about jobs and careers;
“We all need a job but we don’t always need to have a career”.

You can see where this is going, right?
In these days of the portfolio career
A series of jobs, often managerial, in fact
Instead of planning a career to take you upwards,
How about choosing a theme, a mood, that characterises your career planning.

Not everyone is seeking the upper echelons of the corporate world.

We Are Craftsmen

(a manifesto, of sorts)

We are craftsmen.
We do a job well, for its own sake.
The end.

The longer version follows.

For craftsmen and women
The only measure of a job is how well they have done it.
For independent craftsmen and women
There is a tension between the work they do to meet their own standards
And the willingness of someone to pay for that work.

That payer may be a client
Or an employer.

In the case of an employer,
There are rules in place that prevent us
From working to our own standards:
Differing performance metrics,
Changes in focus,
A new organisational crisis,
A change of heart.

Often this means going independent, carving our own path.
Such as those who follow André Chaperon of Tiny Little Businesses.
Who is, by the way, a significant influence on the way I approach my own work.
(if you do choose to go your own way, I recommend having a look at André’s work)

When Career Change is Not an Option

But many of you cannot do that.
Career change is not an option.
You work for a large organisation
Let’s say 100 – 2000+ employees
And, by and large, you tolerate your work.

Sure, there are things to improve
Relationships to nurture
Hindrances to remove
But, overall, life is okay.

Craftsmanship is something
That conjures up images of working with one’s hands;
Of blacksmiths forging metal,
And goldsmiths turning out extraordinarily beautiful pieces,
Of embroiderers stitching pearls onto fabric,
Or cabinet makers selecting and working
Different timbers into a fine piece of furniture.

These are skills developed and improved over time
And, because the product stands before our eyes;
We can see the defects,
Touch the finish,
We can feel its weight.

But in an office, where you are most likely working
What is craftsmanship?
How do we introduce this notion
To an environment in which nothing is tangible
Except the relationships between people?

And why should we?


The Craftsman Manager

This is the purpose of your career planning sessions
Management as a craft
Doing it well, for its own sake
Allowing the “thing” (your people’s work)
To shine through
Rather than the maker, you.

You can, with some effort, transform your organisation
Into a place where craftsmanship is expected.
Where trust and respect become the norm.

As a mid-level manager
You are uniquely suited to do this
Because you stand at the intersection of:

  • Directing executives
  • Decision-making peers, and
  • Influencing team members.

With an opportunity like that, is a new career really what you want?

Becoming a craftsman manager
Means going from this state

  • a feeling of having fewer choices available
  • a strong desire to find a new career
  • an unhealthy investment in the status quo
  • change fatigue
  • risk aversion
  • self-censorship

to this one

  • calmness in the face of adversity
  • having an increased sense of purpose
  • re-engagement in the work itself
  • seeing an increase in your team’s productivity and performance
  • the ability to thrive in a chaotic environment

Craftsman Manager as a Career Objective

A Craftsman Manager
Will do the job of management well, for its own sake.
Not to advance their career,
And not for financial gain,
Not for reasons of power,
But because it needs to be done.

And helping your team members
Become craftsmen and women in their own right.
Doing their jobs well, for their sake.

If career change is not an option
Imagine this.
Managing a team of people
Whose sole purpose is to do the job well, for its own sake.
And helping them with their own career planning
From that perspective.

How easy would that be…?