Did you know that in the United States, as many as half of today’s kindergartens will live to be at least 100 years old? Maybe you are aware that the typical college graduate in 2023 could easily hold 25-30 different jobs across multiple industries during their lifetime. Scholars from the Stanford Center on Longevity have prepared a new life design map which includes the bold prediction that most young students could spend 60-70 years working in various job opportunities across the course of their lives (Carstensen, 2022). That is a long time—and no one is prepared for these drastic changes.
Similarly, Weise (2021) contended that we need to begin to prepare for the 100-year work life—and that long life learning needs to become a priority for students. Educators need to support students to prepare for occupations that do not even exist at this time.
Higher education and student affairs leaders play critical roles in supporting students for career longevity in an era marked by profound uncertainty. It is difficult to predict the future; yet, change is inevitable, and many individuals struggle with managing ambiguity. Inevitably, there will be periods of time when all of us are more engaged in paid work (e.g., traditional employment, gig work) as compared to non-paid work (e.g., caregiving, volunteer work). Based on these predictions, a holistic planning approach will work best.
Integrative Life Planning: Negotiating Work-Life Roles
Individuals possess multiple life roles and identities. Career can be defined as the constellation of these life roles, where paid work is one such role. There will likely be stints where we drop in and out of paid work opportunities, creating a more unpredictable and non-linear structure to future planning. Learning how to adjust to these episodic changes will become an invaluable skill. One of my advisers in graduate school was Dr. Sunny Hansen, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Sunny often discussed the value of holistic and integrative life-career planning, where paid work is only one important life role that we assume. The challenge is to find balance between these different roles that are congruent with our values and priorities at any given time.
Integrative planning involves assessing one’s values, skills, and strengths that align with life-career choices (Hansen, 2011). Additionally, this set of self-assessment tools involves areas of moral and ethical decision-making, knowing what is most important and sacred at various life stages. Thompson (2022) reminded readers that in terms of hours allocated, career is only one/eighth of our lives–suggesting that other life roles are actually more important (or at least, as important).
Recent evidence suggests that many members of Gen Z will take a new approach to career, one marked by career skepticism. For many Gen Zers, they may place greater importance on the non-paid aspects of their identities rather than emphasize traditional, achievement-oriented career objectives (Warzel, 2021). Balancing stark financial realities with rising costs of living over the 100-year life will inevitably create some tension and make holistic career planning skills even more vital (e.g., managing paid work such as gig contracts with caregiving, non-paid work).
Career Development Involves All Educators
Student affairs educators play important roles in nudging students to develop this set of skills that they will implement over their lifetimes. Part of this process may involve students learning how to be more comfortable with ambiguity and tolerating frequent change. No doubt practitioners in career development offices are well trained to take the lead. However, all of us in higher education can shape undergraduate career education and prepare students for the new world of work.
A new edited text (with my co-editors Melanie Buford and Michael Sharp) is titled, Mapping the Future of Undergraduate Career Education: Equitable Career Learning, Development, and Preparation in the New World of Work, and published by Routledge (2023). The purpose of this book is to explore innovative and equitable strategies that educators can use to help prepare students for these changes in the future. In this text, more than 20 international authors explore frameworks, ideas, and practices that engage students around critical issues and trends shaping career and work issues.
Resources and Ideas for Implementation
Four main ideas are presented below that educators can use with undergraduate students to promote career development in this new world of work. Several of these ideas are adopted from the new text. Student affairs educators can initiate career-related conversations with undergraduate students regularly. These discussions can be informal interactions that occur inside and outside the classroom, such as in academic advising contacts, residence halls contexts, and related learning environments. Faculty can integrate these ideas into the curriculum as well.
Multipotentiality: Integrating a Range of Interests and Skills
A concept that educators might introduce to students is multipotentiality. Introduced by Emilie Wapnick (2017), multipotentiality refers to individuals who possess different skills, interests, and pathways. Multipotentialites tend to have diverse and interdisciplinary traits, and often create “slash” careers that integrate their strengths and interests. For example, a graduate may see themselves as a biologist/artist/entrepreneur. Student educators can emphasize active exploration, not just the pursuit of a single career pathway. Seeing oneself as a generalist in an ever-changing workplace can viewed as an asset (Epstein, 2019). As Wapnick and Buford (2023) described, “The process of finding a career can be just as interesting and design-oriented as any career itself. Many multipotentialites are drawn to exploration, and this in itself can provide a motivating foundation for career” (p. 164).
A compelling advantage of multipotentiality is that students can follow multiple interests—and not be tied to a single discipline or pathway. Educators can share resources for and about multipotentialites and assist students to identify options that satisfy their need for exploration, novelty, and different learning contexts.
Efforts and Values over Passions: Focusing on What Really Matters
Again, encouraging students to see where they can combine their interests and skills will be advantageous in the new world of work because most of us will be immersed in multiple work opportunities across our lifetimes. Notice we did not advise students to follow their passions. Here we agree with Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank host, Mark Cuban. In a podcast interview with organizational psychologist Adam Grant, Cuban suggested that students follow their efforts, not their passions. Efforts will provide more information on what really matters. Grant summarized this sentiment, stating,
There's another benefit of following your effort. It gives you a window into your values, not just your passions. Psychologists find that interests can wax and wane but meaning tends to last. Noticing where you invest your effort doesn't just illuminate what you enjoy. It reveals what matters to you. (Grant, 2022, 42:57)
Educators will likely resonate with the language of supporting students to find work that aligns with personal values and ethical decision-making that holds meaning for them. For example, many Gen Zers will opt to take jobs with organizations that espouse mission statements that are congruent with their own personal and professional values (e.g., commitments to social justice and DEI work, pro-environment initiatives, and companies that are LGBTQ+ friendly, among others).
Narrative Approaches: Telling a Good Story
Narrative approaches to career development continue to expand. From this perspective, one’s life is a series of chapters or stories that comprise a larger narrative. Students can learn to create smaller micro-narratives of what they learned from certain learning experiences acquired throughout their undergraduate education. For example, a student who participates in a study abroad program can articulate that they learned valuable cross-cultural communication and teamwork skills that they can now transfer into the workplace (DuRose & Stebleton, 2016).
Acquiring narrative and storytelling skills involves practice. Narrative and storytelling skills will be more valuable than ever before given the shifting nature of future work (Stebleton, 2021). Telling “stories” in a concise and effective way serves as one tool to bridge and depict these transitions throughout life—and to prepare for new opportunities (Cron, 2021; Stebleton & Franklin, 2023).
Student affairs educators and faculty can challenge students to develop these story-telling skills inside and outside the classroom. For example, advisers and instructors can ask students to reflect on what they learned from certain learning or work experiences—and to assign meaning to these opportunities.
Challenge Mindset: Focusing on Problems to be Confronted
Author and entrepreneur JP Michel encouraged students and educators to adopt a challenge mindset that fosters meaning and purpose. From this perspective, students are advised to move beyond a job title mindset to a broader one that focuses on tackling problems. As Michel (2023) questioned, “instead of asking students, ‘what do you do you want to be when you grow up?,' what if we started asking, ‘What problems do you want to solve?'” (p. 171). The model incorporates elements of hope, adaptability, self-efficacy, autonomy, and purpose.
The Challenge mindset curriculum, and the companion Challenge cards, are being used widely at various schools and colleges globally. Student affairs educators and faculty members can support students to adopt this mindset. Michel (2023) offered several recommendations including,
- Facilitate exploration activities by providing lists of real-world challenges that students can engage with.
- Increase awareness of exposure bias in career selection and career-related stereotypes (e.g., based on sex, race, or other factors).
- Be an advocate for purposeful career development on campus, driven by the notion that helping students identify meaningful career options can lead to greater academic engagement, performance and satisfaction (Michel, 2023, pp. 177-178).
- The future of career planning will be marked by ongoing change and fluidity. Career educators, along with support from student affairs educators, faculty, and administrators can continue to support students for a long and meaningful career-life journey.
Acknowledgement: The author would like to acknowledge colleagues Melanie Buford and Gary Peter for their thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of this blog.
Buford, M., Sharp, M. J., & Stebleton, M. J. (Eds.). (2023). Mapping the future of undergraduate career education: Equitable career learning, development, and preparation for a new world of work. Routledge
Carstensen, L. (2022, April). The new map of life: A report from the Stanford Center on Longevity. Stanford University. https://longevity.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/new-map-of-life-full-report.pdf
Cron, L. (2021). Story or die: How to use brain science to engage, persuade, and change minds in business and in life. Ten Speed Press.
DuRose, L., & Stebleton, M. J. (2016). Lost in translation: Preparing students to articulate the meaning of a college degree. Journal of College and Character, 17(4), 271-277. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2016.1230759
Epstein, D. (2019). Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world. Riverhead.
Grant, A. (Host). (2022, September 13). Re-thinking: Mark Cuban doesn’t believe in following your passions [Audio podcast]. TED. https://www.ted.com/podcasts/mark-cuban-doesn-t-believe-in-following-your-passions-transcript
Hansen, S. S. (2011). Integrative life planning: A holistic approach. Journal of Employment Counseling, 48(4), 167-169. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1920.2011.tb01105.x
Michel, J. P. (2023). The challenge mindset: Empowering students to find meaning and purpose. In M. V. Buford, M. J. Sharp, & M. J. Stebleton (Eds.), Mapping the future of undergraduate career education: Equitable career learning, development, and preparation in the new world of work (pp. 167-182). Routledge.
Stebleton, M. J. (2021). Stories to craft: Applying narrative competencies to student affairs. Journal of College and Character, 22(2), 171-178. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2021.1898985
Stebleton, M. J., & Franklin, M. (2023). Applying narrative approaches to support undergraduate career decision-making. In M. Buford, M. Sharp, & M. J. Stebleton (Eds.), Mapping the future of undergraduate career education: Equitable career learning, development, and preparation for a new world of work. Routledge.
Thompson, D. (2022, September 9). Your career is just one-eighth of your life. The Atlantic Monthly. https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/09/career-ambition-advice-data/671374/
Wapnick, E. (2017). How to be everything: A guide for those who (still) don't know what they want to be when they grow up. HarperOne.
Wapnick, E., & Buford, M. V. (2023). The rise of multipotentiality in a new landscape of work. In M. V. Buford, M. J. Sharp, & M. J. Stebleton (Eds.), Mapping the future of undergraduate career education: Equitable career learning, development, and preparation in the new world of work (pp. 155-166). Routledge.
Warzel, C. (2021, August 30). What if people don’t want a career. Galaxy Brain. https://warzel.substack.com/p/what-if-people-dont-want-a-career?s=r
Weise, M. R. (2021). Long life learning: Preparing for jobs that don't even exist yet. Wiley & Sons.
- How do you envision working in the future? Consider life roles, types of work environment, and other preferences that are important to you.
- Identify several of your strengths and interests. If you were to see yourself as multipotentialite, what might be your “slash” career?
- What other demographic and socioeconomic factors might influence the world of work in the future? For example, the global pandemic affected many aspects of how we view and engage in work. List 2-3 possibilities.
- What challenges do you want to work on? What difference do you want to make, if that is a goal?
- What did you learn from reading this column? How might you integrate one key idea into your own career-life planning?