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Leading Indicators of Sustainable Careers
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“Job security is gone. The driving force of a career must come from the individual.” —Homa Bahrami, Ph.D.

How can you design a career that will endure and flourish to fit the new landscape of the changing employment market in the next decade?Introduction
In today’s tumultuous times, organizational needs and global competition are turning careers upside-down. People are displaced independent of their wisdom and mastery. The economy tramples traditional career paths, leaving careers moving in fits and spurts, - or gone altogether. With millions of jobs lost, rigid notions about career development, with ladders, lattices, linear and lateral career progressions are out the window.

How can you insulate yourself from lagging economic contractions, global competition, shifting skill requirements and rapidly changing technology? Most experts acknowledge that the greatest job growth will center on non-routine, creative, and conceptual careers. The shift in the workplace is clear. Traveling through it may not be easy. You will need to craft your own pathways.

Unpredictable and rampant economic events, extrinsic forces and changing organization strategies illustrate that building a sustainable career is up to you

  • How can you best meet this changing landscape?
  • What is a sustainable career?
  • How can you design a career that will flourish in the new landscape of work?

We’re Not Talking Jobs Any More
Politicians may be talking about jobs, but we have to stop thinking in terms of jobs and start thinking of the series of work experiences we can create to give us a robust career. Excellence in a trade or profession that’s needed today and “fits” our passion and natural talent is the most solid building block of a sustainable career. Only 41% of workers reported they give conscious thought to their careers and create a plan to support them. The majority leave their career decisions to chance. What’s wrong with allowing other people or external forces to make your career decisions for you? Plenty…

The concept of a permanent job has disappeared from our work environment. The notion vanished with jobs that carried instruction booklets and a book of rules with them. Those were the routinely mechanical jobs, which were outsourced, shipped offshore, or automated. The Wall Street Bank Recession of 2008 sent millions more of the scripted, repetitive jobs packing and most of them will never return. Two years before the Great Contraction of 2009, twenty million Americans (17%) changed jobs each year. That figure has grown over the last five years. Having a career is no longer about finding the right job and keeping it, but about making continual career choices in response to a rapidly changing workplace. Human capital is no longer delineated by a title or belonging to a particular group. It is defined by skills and relevance. Learning to choose, maintain and manage sustainable careers, challenge by challenge, project by project, day by day, will be the essential ingredients to promote security, self-satisfaction and personal happiness in your career.

We are knee-deep in a world where conceptual, cognitive, creative jobs will multiply while most routine, mechanical, and repetitive jobs - work directed by others - will vanish. It is a place where new generations entering the workforce as well as older displaced workers face far more complex, challenging, and self-directed work. In this changing landscape, personal and organizational success will depend on non-routine, right-brain, asynchronous, fast-paced collaborative, networked and socially meaningful work. It is a landscape where you make the decisions. This is the world of sustainable careers.

Whether you’re just entering the workforce, an experienced worker, a manager or leader, the secret to success and satisfaction is to connect your innate desire to contribute to others with the current and future needs of society. This could be in finance, transportation, entertainment, security, energy, education, health or other areas that are addressing pressing needs. Each of us yearn to control our own destinies and contribute to something that will endure. Finding a job, any job, is a Band-Aid solution to career success. Understanding the characteristics of sustainable careers and building your career around those can provide a lifeline for your career success.

Leading Indicators of Sustainable Careers: How Does Yours Stack Up?
Before you look for the paths to follow to develop a sustainable career, I suggest you take a closer look at the indicators of sustainable careers. What are the most important indicators? How can you design around them? As you read each of the indicators of sustainable careers, evaluate your own career. Answer Yes or No for each of the twelve characteristics listed below.

How Sustainable is Your Career?
Does it... YES NO
1. Address Human Needs Your Care About? - Sustainable careers address important human problems and needs that are driven by our human nature and required for a vital global community – transportation, energy, safety/security, health and well-being, finance, education, leisure, spirituality, environmental health, home/shelter, family and social relationships. These needs will always need professionals to serve and care for them.    
2. Challenge Your Imagination and Curiosity? - Sustainable careers require the on-going challenge of your mind – curiosity, questioning, imagining, experimenting – and cannot be easily automated giving the world a continual flow of novel ideas and innovative approaches.    
3. Improve the Quality of Life - Yours, Others and Your Organization? - Sustainable careers provide better, faster and less expensive goods and services, improve the quality of life and help society to move to a different paradigm, required for a healthy and sustainable community/civilization.    
4. Tap into Your Talents, Skills and Interests –Bring Out the Best in You? - Sustainable careers play to your natural talents, skills and interests – igniting your passion and fostering the learning required to be masterful at something you love and care about. You are in your element!    
5. Spark Entrepreneurial and Innovative Thinking? - Sustainable careers foster research and innovation that bring new products and services to your organization. Think like an entrepreneur, look for trends, ask “what if” questions, take risks and most of all accept and leverage change.    
6. Add Meaning to Your Life? - Sustainable careers focus on a service or problem that is important to you, giving you a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment because you are making life better for you and others. This sense of meaning is a major motivator in your life and varies from person to person.    
7. Support Your Financial Well-Being? - Sustainable careers allow us to take care of our basic human needs for home, food, transportation, education, health care and those things that are important to us. You have skills and abilities needed and valued in the marketplace. What this means monetarily varies for each of us.    
8. Present Continual Learning Opportunities? - Sustainable careers energize your desire and need to learn, to be challenged and to build your skills. Dynamic and changing customer needs and organization strategies force you to benchmark your skills and continually learn and develop to master the shifting challenges if your organization and industry.    
9. Require Broad Networks and Alliances? - Sustainable careers foster and necessitate vibrant networks of knowledge resources and value-added relationships, giving you timely access to relevant and essential learning. Speed requires agility. Deep and wide networks support quick and wise decisions.    
10. Open Career Choices and Options? - Sustainable careers are fluid and dynamic, always opening up new options and career possibilities for addressing basic human needs. You may choose to be a subject matter expert, individual contributor, or manager or even hone your skills to be able to move in and out of those options as your life or business needs change.    
11. Provide Self-Renewal Driven by Obsession with a Vision? - Sustainable careers wear well, generate energy and passion in and around you, last, do not disappear nor deplete your personal resources or those of our environment because they take care of basic human needs that will never disappear.    
12. Foster competency development in current and developing technology ? - Sustainable careers require staying up to speed in the tools and technologies required for excellence in a profession and technical requirements supporting products and services.    
  Total – Yeses Total Nos    

The fewer yeses you have, the more at risk you are of becoming burnt out, irrelevant, displaced or not advancing. Follow this series of articles for tips on taking on each of the 10 Characteristics of Sustainable Careers.


Changes in economic events illustrate the importance of developing sustainable careers. Which careers will endure and flourish in the new landscape of work? This year, we will explore some of the leading indicators sustainable careers have in common that Address Human Problems and Needs, Improve the Quality of Life, Challenge the Imagination, Fit Your Personality, Are Self-Renewing, Are something to be Passionate About, Give Meaning to your Life, Present Continual Learning Opportunities, and Require Expansive Networks and Deep Relationships.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative career development solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Bayer, Baylor Health Care, Brown Forman, CapitalOne, MassMutual, Northrop Grumman, Reebok, Sandia National Labs, Sodexo and Sprint.. MasteryWorks provides enterprise-wide career web portals, training, consulting, e-Learning, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty-five years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate more than a dozen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career development, “Who’s Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. Her strategic approach consistently delivers on employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. Contact Tom Karl, Executive Vice President for more information - or (703) 256-5712.

MasteryWorks, Inc.
2230 George C Marshall Drive, Suite 122 Falls Church, Virginia 22043 USA 800-229-5712