5 Paradigms Holding us Back from Consciously Designing our Working Lives

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In my work as a coach and in recording the Good Work Revolution podcast, I’ve had many conversations about what it’s taken people to shift their businesses or careers. Shift to something that truly brings them fulfilment, wellbeing and the life they desire. Often a large part of this is overcoming a long held belief around a certain paradigm relating to work and life. That belief can be consciously or unconsciously held. It’s those conversations going on in our heads that say ‘this is how it is, this what I should do, this is how I should be because XYZ tells me so.’

Getting stuck in these paradigms however, can hold us back from really doing what is right for us in creating our best working lives. They can keep us in jobs we hate, stop us following our hearts and push us down a work or life path that is not fully of our own design. This is not just limited to individuals either - organisations can also be significantly impacted. Affecting growth, innovation, engagement, retention and the list goes on.

So what are some paradigms we should consider when thinking about creating happy, healthy and fulfilling working lives as we evolve in a rapidly changing working world?

 

PARADIGM 1: THIS IS WHAT A CAREER PATH LOOKS LIKE

It’s no surprise we struggle with this one. It’s drummed into us from a young age when people begin to ask us what we want to be when we grow up. It’s the outdated notion there’s one single thing we’ll do for the rest of our lives. This is perpetuated by the school system, at least here in Australia. We are asked at about the age of 15 to start choosing our subjects. These subjects will determine what we can do the following year, then the following, then in our final high school years. This then determines what we can study at university, which will determine our career. Once we have our career and are on ‘the path’, we want to keep at it, because we’ve spent X amount of time, money and energy getting there.

But what a career looks like today, is not what it looked like 30, 20 even 10 years ago. Analysis of recently released OECD research suggests those part of Generation Z will have an estimated “17 jobs across five careers in their lifetime.” We are also beginning to see more people intentionally choosing portfolio careers as a viable career choice. Making choices based on the notion of career held by our parents and grandparents, closes us off to the many opportunities offered into the modern world of today.

Shifting Paradigms: What I study will not necessarily lead to my one true career. I can have more than one (and possibly many) careers in my lifetime.

 

PARADIGM 2: THIS IS WHAT WORK LOOKS LIKE

Linked to what a career path looks like, is what work looks like. It sounds similar, but is a bit different. This is about the day to day of work. For a large portion of people, we become accustomed to the idea of working from 9-5, five days a week, between 47 and 50 weeks a year (depending on where you’re from, minus public holidays). We’ve seen our parents do it. We’ve seen our teachers do it. So it’s no surprise it sticks in our head as the thing to do.

The 9-5/40 hour working week was born from the industrial revolution. (Before then we actually worked a lot more). But times have changed. We moved from a time where work was focused on mass production and making things required the power of many humans.Today we work in a time more focused on knowledge - where machines do much of our manual labour and our minds are what make us valuable. And we will only see things shift more in this direction. We are also now in a world where we are working across borders and timezones and have the ability to communicate with the click of a button. Many of us don’t always have to be at a workplace to do our work.  Yet we still find ourselves falling back into working structures built for another time.

It is all too easy to become slaves to ‘this is how we’ve always done it’. If we are able to put this aside, we can open ourselves up to models and ways of working more aligned with who we are and what we’re seeking in life.

Shifting Paradigms: Work does not have to be 9-5, 5 days a week 47-50 weeks a year. There are alternatives to attending a traditional workplace ‘in the flesh’ every day.

 

PARADIGM 3: THIS IS WHAT I NEED TO LIVE

This one is something that really struck me after I spent a year living in Japan in my 20s. My now husband and I went over to teach English. Both children of the Australian ‘burbs, we’d grown up in large houses in leafy streets with big backyards. And like so many Aussie young people, that stuck in our minds as what we needed in life. Yet in Japan we lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. I could literally stand in one place in the house and see into every room (including the bathroom and toilet). We were really happy (and much tidier) in that little shoe box. It totally changed my perspective on what I needed to live.

What we’ve grown up with, the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to - we very easily fall into thinking this is what we ‘need’ to live. It’s not necessarily something we see as big or flashy, but just what we come to expect as day to day. It may be the size our house or the kinds of school we want to send our kids to. It could be the shops we buy our clothes from, how often we eat out, buy coffee or travel. The point is - what we come to believe we need, is often far more about familiarity and habit.

This can be a killer when it comes having the kind of work-life that truly brings us happiness and wellbeing. It’s not that we’re greedy or ungrateful for what we have, but that we're unconsciously striving for things to achieve what is ‘normal’ in our minds. And in many cases this can place us under unnecessary pressure. It may be a lot easier to take a pay cut to explore a new career path, start a business, cut back to four days a week (whatever your ‘thing’ may be), if you remove some of this pressure.

Shifting Paradigms: What I am familiar with or accustomed to having, being and doing in my life - is not always a reflection of what I actually need. Challenging what I need, may open up possibilities for a more happy and fulfilling work/life.

 

PARADIGM 4: THIS IS WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

What we think we need is one thing - our idea of success is a whole other ball game. The problem with success is we're often lulled into believing an idea of it that’s not in line with our own values. The media has a lot to answer for in this department. Television, magazines, movies, fashion Etc, have their ways of making us believe bigger, better, faster, more glamorous, more expensive is what we should go after. I believe we all know deep down these things don’t bring true happiness, yet we can still find ourselves caught up in the wheel chasing after them.

Career success also has a bit of a whacky spin to it. You may have heard the story of the Fisherman and the Businessman. It illustrates this beautifully. This strange idea we should spend the best years of our lives working hard to get ahead. This is so we can eventually retire and then do all the things we want to do - live the way we want to live. This is very much how our working systems are set up though.

With both of these points, we are not defining what success really means to us. We are letting society and old ways of thinking influence us - which can stop us seeking what is truly right for us as individuals.

Shifting Paradigms: I define what success looks like for me. I can design my work to have the life I want now - I don't need to wait until retirement.

PARADIGM 5: THIS IS WHAT’S EXPECTED

I’ve left this point until last, as all the others touch on it in some way. The pressure we place on ourselves to be a certain way or do certain things in our lives, can often be more about the expectations of others than our own truth. We have expectations placed on us from so many angles: society, parents, partners, community, employers - just to name a few.

There are the expectations people tell us they have of us eg. Son, you will be a doctor or a lawyer one day. There are the expectations we pick up on based on the actions of others around us eg. I must work until 7pm, because the boss does. There are the expectations we feel based on societal norms or what has happened historically eg. I should really stay at home with my new baby for X amount of time before going back to work. And then there are the expectations we create based on what we think others want eg. All the women on TV and in magazines look like this, so for me to be successful/liked/accepted/loved Etc, I must also look like that. These are perhaps some obvious examples, but you get the idea.

Sometimes we are acutely aware how we let expectations (or perceived expectations) affect us and how we go about our lives. Other times we are completely oblivious. Sometimes there really is an expectation of us and other times we create false expectations in our own minds. The point is, many expectations are not really our own. And whether our own, someone else’s - doing what is expected is not always the best or right way forward for us to live our best lives.

Shifting Paradigms: What is expected of my by society and others, is not always what is best for me. Breaking free from expectations can open up opportunities for my best working life. 

 

Have you ever been affected by any of these paradigms? Are any of them affecting you right now? I certainly know I’ve experienced each of them in some way at various points in my life. Awareness is the key. Once we have awareness of the things impacting our decision making in regards to our working lives, we can be far more conscious and intentional about those decisions and mapping our path forward. We can begin to ask ourselves, ‘is this really right for me, my life, my family and my future, or is there a better way?’

 

Have you had any paradigms affect you? What were they? Can you add any to the list above? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. And if you think someone else might enjoy or benefit from this article, it would be amazing if you would share it.