Career – all circus?

Text & illustrations by Susanne Gold

When it comes to careers, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding today.

For a long time, the concept of career followed simple rules: Diligence and getting to the top was the only direction known in hierarchically managed companies. People worked their way along a clearly defined path – apprentice, journeyman and master – this was the rule.

But – this system had real drawbacks even half a century ago, as Laurence J. Peter described it in his book “The Peter Principle.” If you follow Peter, employees in such hierarchies tend to move up until they are in a position that overwhelms them. Peter even called this a world-dominating basic law and probably gave comfort to many people with his work published in the seventies of the twentieth century. For they saw confirmed what they already knew: Their superiors had the power, but often they had no idea how to manage.

The awarding of positions was rarely about real knowledge, but often about political games that seem like real-life satire. Companies today have a difficult mandate to ensure that their advancement opportunities also reflect the interests of the company and to provide clarity about what empowering leadership roles should entail. Today, it’s no longer about the company car and the big salary, but more about fairness in pay and intrinsic motivation, appreciation and a successful feedback culture.  This means that managers’ communication skills and their emphatic mindset are becoming much more important.

A manager today needs to be a good coach rather than a commander.

The shelf life of knowledge has greatly decreased against the backdrop of rapidly developing technologies. Sociologists therefore assume that people’s lives are becoming increasingly individualized. This means that they no longer resemble each other, because people no longer develop along a career path, but rather within the framework of a mosaic.

In addition, the idea that vertical advancement within a hierarchy is necessary for social recognition is becoming less and less important.

Companies themselves are undergoing radical change. New business units are constantly emerging, technologies come and go. Change plays with markets and industries at will, causing companies to increasingly lose their “career monopoly” and have to offer staff positions for continuous learning as well as customized career counseling.

In new organizations, employees are increasingly working on a project-oriented basis, i.e., they look for their own tasks and come together in virtual and temporary teams. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic, people often work exclusively from their home offices and thus invariably in virtual teams.

The new generation of employees often no longer want to subordinate themselves to a set career path.

Whereas career used to be a movement within vertical hierarchies, today it is more like personal development. People want to grow, develop their individual mindset and enjoy their own work. This no longer has anything to do with climbing higher in a hierarchical structure.

Companies must also react to this.

Increasingly, development platforms for competencies are being offered. In order to remain attractive for talents, employers must develop from a pure place of employment and livelihood to a kind of “personality development organization”. It is obvious that many HR organizations are overburdened with this.

Old hierarchical thought patterns resist such “sidesteps” – especially those who have made a career in these hierarchies.

Today, careers are no longer linked to a prescribed culture of behavior that implies virtues such as diligence and punctuality. The challenge facing today’s companies is to develop a completely new value culture. This involves trust, intellectual challenges, appreciation and individual sympathy. For many of the old management team, this is too much. Although they know that business models are constantly changing, they are not keeping pace with these changes in human terms or with their new tasks as managers.

Finding talent is also becoming increasingly difficult. For a long time, it was enough to attract talent with a good salary.

This still attracts potential employees, but not necessarily the best. Because today, the topic of careers also raises all kinds of questions for individuals. Which of the skills they have learned will still be worth something on the job market tomorrow? Planning a career is difficult – every newly learned skill can be a step into the void, as the knowledge could become obsolete.

If you want to make a career today, it’s best to start by looking at yourself and understanding your skills and aspirations. In summary, the foremost question in career navigation now is:

Japanese philosophy Ikigai deals with the overall meaning of life. With the questions that are asked there you should be able to find out which very personal reason makes it worthwhile to get up every morning, to start the day and to work. Ikigai is considered in Japan to be the key to a long, fulfilling life.


What are you passionate about and what do you actually have a talent for: One’s own inner compass is definitely the right tool for asatisfying work life.

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