Career rejectionists

Their guiding questions are simple. What if work didn’t make you feel awful? What would life be like if we didn’t live to work? What do workers and employers actually owe each other? What if we structured our work lives around a different idea of success?

It’s not a full-scale rejection of capitalism or a call to burn down the system altogether. Those questioning their careers are simply daring to imagine what a better, more equitable future of work might look like.

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What If People Don’t Want 'A Career?'

warzel.substack.com

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The career is a device that businesses and managers can use as a motivation to get the deference and feigned enthusiasm that they want from employees. It’s a great tool, in part because career arcs are real. Perceptions and reputations matter and offices have promotional structures that workers want to move up. 

But the career concept is also frequently abused and lorded over employees. What is billed as mentorship and training (here’s how we do things/here’s how to get ahead) can quickly turn into intimidation and even a vague threat against a person’s future (don’t cross me or it’ll cost you).

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The growing skepticism around ‘careers’

The current brand of career skepticism is different, more absolute. It’s not a rejection of how somebody navigates the game, it’s a rejection of the game itself.

When you talk to people who reject the modern notion of a career, many of them say the same thing: They crave more balance, less precarity, and better pay. They also, crucially, want to work. But they want to work for places that actually invest in them and their futures without expecting workers to sacrifice everything. They want to be a part of organizations that recognize that meaningful and collaborative work can bring dignity and create value but that work is by no means the only way to cultivate satisfaction and self-worth.

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The modern understanding of a career in most knowledge work fields involves a non-trivial amount of sacrifice. You are expected to pay your dues, work your way up, and ride out the rough patches. Endurance is key. If you stick it out long enough, there’s something great on the other side — primarily security. 

Even in jobs where management is less cynical and exploitative, the focus is always on the long term: It might suck now, but you’re building toward something. And that something — the resume at the end of your life — is a genuine measure of a person’s worth.

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