Once upon a time, Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Today, Mr. Darwin would go further: the one most adaptable to change doesn’t just survive, they thrive. In a professional world with constant accelerating change, being adaptable is the only way to stay employable and promotable.
However, we still rely on old paradigms when thinking about careers. We assume a thriver’s career follows the same old path: they go from entry point A to executive point H, with stops at all points in between.
But that’s no longer how it works for everyone. We have to adjust our assumptions about career paths. We must make sure our association’s education and credentialing programs, career resources, and marketing messages reflect the new reality.
Take note of new career trajectories
Many Gen Zers and millennials aren’t taking the same approach to their professional lives as older generations because the workplace has changed. Freelancers and independent contractors are 36% of the American workforce now, but that number is bound to go higher because nearly one-third of Gen Z wants to work for themselves.
They’re not willing to follow the unhealthy workplace norms of older generations, like “paying their dues” with long uncompensated hours, meager vacation benefits, and return-to-office mandates. Many have turned down promotions to management. No surprise then that, per a Gallup study, at least half the U.S. workforce is quiet quitting.
Because of constant change and innovations, such as generative AI, people of all ages are feeling more uncertain about the stability and sustainability of their jobs and careers. Younger folks especially are more willing to job- and career-hop to find the right fit for their current stage of life.
Everyone is wired differently. Some people like the stability and satisfaction of climbing a career ladder, while others prefer to follow their curiosity and explore new paths. Over a lifetime, professional interests and values change, work experiences change people, and the job market changes.
Change is the only thing we can safely predict. Associations and industry employers can’t continue to operate with old assumptions about careers following a linear path and everybody wanting to climb the corporate ladder.
Apply a flux mindset to careers
You can’t control change. But you can prepare to live with it and move forward amidst it, pivoting when necessary, even to unexpected jobs and careers.
Self-described “change navigator” April Rinne says the antidote to uncertainty amidst change is a flux mindset, a mental muscle for change. She describes a flux mindset as “the ability to see unexpected and unwanted change from a place of hope rather than fear, and as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than to resist or deny.”
Her description reminds me of a concept introduced many years ago by the former editor-in-chief of Fast Company, Bob Safian, in an article about Generation Flux. This is a psychographic generation who share the same mindset, not a demographic generation sharing the same age.
Gen Flux thrives in a changing environment. They’re willing to embrace uncertainty, change careers, let go of assumptions, and acquire new skills and knowledge.
But the troubling thought arises. Why would you want to see members leave the industry—and your association—to pursue another job or career? You don’t have control over it one way or the other, but it’s wise to know these things can happen. You want to make sure your programs and benefits welcome those who are exploring your industry and support those who are spending time in it, no matter their position or status.
How associations can help members develop flux mindsets
People with a flux mindset are more open to acquiring new skills and knowledge. And where can they acquire those news skills? At your association, of course.
Think about career portfolios instead of career ladders and paths. Rinne says language matters. “When we use outdated terms, we remain stuck in outdated systems… The future of work is not linear. It’s multi-dimensional and ever-changing… Portfolios grow and evolve, while ladders wobble and fall.”
A career portfolio includes jobs, side hustles, skills, roles, responsibilities, accomplishments, activities, memberships, volunteering, and leadership. Rinne said, “The key, the superpower you need to develop, though, is to be able to curate [your portfolio], to shape it, to see what’s in it and how it needs to be combined and recombined. Again, not just to be fit for the future of work but fit for a world in flux in which things are going to continue to change.”
Position association membership as a way to build a strong career portfolio. Associations can help members fill their portfolios with skills, responsibilities, accomplishments, activities, memberships, volunteering, and leadership.
Create learning pathways. On your website, display learning pathways made up of association educational programs and products that lead to the acquisition of new competencies and microcredentials.
Get the message out. Keep hammering it in that there’s more than one way to move professionally forward and around. Seek out crooked path stories from members and share them in newsletters, conference sessions, podcasts, videos, and webinars.
Open your industry and association to career changers and explorers. Offer introductory programs, early career credentialing, and jump-start programs for people who’ve entered your industry from high school, higher ed, military service, or other careers and industries. Design programs that give participants a set of competencies along with self-awareness, confidence, and resilience.
Encourage members to take charge of their careers. Make sure members know they shouldn’t just let their career happen to them. They don’t have to stay in their lane, they can explore other lanes. They can move the ladder if it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Rinne said, “You can’t control the future, but you can control whether you contribute to a future you’d like to see, which, I hope, includes your own professional well-being, success, contribution to society.” Remind members how they can contribute to their future and the future of their professional community by getting involved with your association—by learning, volunteering, receiving and offering mentorship, and being a good community citizen.