The Inspiration Deficit
I’ve talked to hundreds of people about their careers and aspirations over the past few years. The common theme: people are hungry. They want more interesting work, more ambitious environments, better leaders, and more chances to step up. These people are littered all over the world: India, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Poland to name a few. The desire to challenge one’s self has no borders.
We have the most educated collection of people on this planet and the best we can tell these people, especially young ones, is that they should channel this ambition into legible paths that result in them being able to add fancy letters to their story like MA, VP, Ph.D., and CEO.
All of this made sense at one point. The industrial economy was incredible. It helped billions move into a middle-class existence while being part of building the future. My father got his start building aircraft engines and spent an entire career being part of a company that grew from $300M in revenue to $75 billion in revenue over 40 years. Imagine being part of something like that! Many people have parents who were to benefit from being part of similar companies.
When I was interning at that same company as an intern in the last 2000s, the excitement was gone. Jobs had been outsourced, people had been laid off over and over, and people were telling me I should try to work elsewhere. I worked with another intern that used to nap under his cubicle every day for two hours. No one even came to our corner of the office and no one noticed. There wasn’t enough work to keep us busy anyway.
I graduated and went to work for GE and found similar sentiment. Senior people seemed happy enough to collect a paycheck but pined for the GE of the past, often saying it was “not what it used to be.” People told me the best strategy was to work hard for a few years, find a cozy job, and coast. I wanted more.