Since starting my first business in 2000, the world of work has changed beyond recognition. When I started www.gapwork.com with my friend and business partner, we knew that setting up our own business was going to be hard work, with risks and obstacles along the way. That was all true, but after a year or so of doing our own thing, I knew that I would always make a much better employer than employee, and that the benefits of a well-paid job working for someone else would never outweigh the freedom, control and creativity that running your own business gives you. Recently a few of my friends and family have been going through stuff at work, and have asked me the question “should I give up my job to go it alone”? The answer I think (although I am completely biased) is almost always “yes”.
There is no such thing as a “job for life” anymore – especially now that we can expect to be working well into our 60’s, and beyond. The days of working your way up through an organisation, reaching a plateau, staying there until you retire and then resting on your pension for 20 years are well and truly gone. According to this infographic from the Office for National Statistics, one third of babies born in 2013 can expect to live until they are 100. The average life expectancy of a girl baby born in 2013 is 94. These are big numbers, with big implications for our working world. So as someone who has run their own business, worked for other companies and is now self-employed, these are my tips for a successful working life in the 21st Century:
1. 100 years is a long time to be on this planet. Discounting the first 18 years (when you should be in education) and the last 20 years (when you might be too ill or frail to work – although this may not be the case at all), that leaves 62 working years when you will need to be doing something that pays the bills, is enjoyable, and is worthwhile. Asking a 16 year old to commit to an education pathway into a particular career seems crazy. Keep your mind, your education, and your options open throughout your life.
2. Just the other day, someone said to me “I’ll never be unemployed, because I will always be self-employed”. This is a great way to look at it. As long as your skills and abilities are applicable outside of a particular business, you should always be able to work for yourself. Now is a fantastic time to be a freelancer or to be self-employed, as technology gives us unprecedented access to information, potential clients and resources. All you need is to ditch the employee mentality that often limits your efficacy to a certain job role, and undermines your confidence in your ability to do anything else.
3. Stay skilled. With the amount of online training and education available (often for free) there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay as up-to-date with the latest developments in your field as a recent graduate. This is particularly true for parents who have chosen to take time out of the workplace to look after children.
So in short, stay skilled, be confident in your own abilities, and be flexible throughout your working life. We might live until we are 100, but life is still too short to be doing something you don’t enjoy, that doesn’t develop you as an individual or benefit others, and stresses you out.