I keep coming across bold forecasts about what the media seems to be calling ‘The Great Resignation’. It’s supposedly been happening in Europe and the US and slowly, here in Australia. Depending on the article, and if they’re to be believed, as many as 2 in 5 Australian’s are in the process of quitting their jobs or soon will be. We can likely relate to and intuit their/our motivations: a re-evaluation of priorities, a desire for greater flexibility, or greater meaning. We’ve all had plenty of ‘life is too short’ moments in the last 18 months, which I’ve written about often and especially here. We actually wouldn’t mind hanging on to quiet mornings at home or the chance to get out for a run during the day; some extra time for family or a hobby… There has also been a clear distinction made on a community level between what work is essential and whatever it is the rest of us have been doing with our lives.
In tourism, the industry I’ve dedicated much of my life to, we always knew we were discretionary but there was a while when we felt kind of important. We told ourselves stories about the 1 in 10 people employed globally or the largest voluntary transfer of wealth between the rich and the poor. In our team at Localing, we spoke about the privilege of sharing once in a lifetime experiences with our guests: the rare moments in life dedicated to leisure and discovery. People seem to have missed travel, I certainly have, but most of us have managed by spending our extra cash on new TV’s and coffee machines and exercise bikes. Tourism is certainly not developing a vaccine or ensuring a stable food supply, fighting climate change or the mental health crisis. It’s not even construction or manufacturing, teaching or journalism. On the hierarchy of needs, we now know where we stand.
A dearth of meaning has had me considering a change of pace. Some of that is temporary: there’s no comparison between what I do now – apply for grants, process cancellations, plan trips that mostly can’t eventuate… and what I did before – keep up with demand, ensure quality and consistency at an ever-increasing scale… Scarcity is very different to abundance and contraction to growth. But some part of this meaning problem I expect to endure like a bad hangover, even beyond the recovery. I don’t think we leisure professionals will be alone in that.
A little anecdote for you.
Like most Australians and especially Victorians, my local footy team was decided long before my birth. If you’re familiar with AFL, you’ll know having been born a Fitzroy supporter is a tough lot in life. In primary school, I found a kindred sufferer in the tuck shop lady, Velda. In all of primary school, it was just us. We two sorry souls would cry into our vegaroni each Monday morning, lamenting our perennial wooden-spooners latest defeat. In 1996 the club went broke and merged with an out of state team I could never get around. Footy was forever lost to me. I quit under 10’s and became a drama kid. My life would never be the same.
A lot of important things happen far too early in life. In these ‘life is too short’ moments, I find myself wondering how I got here. So how did we get here, to this career crisis, to this dearth of meaning? What were the questions we asked and answers we found when deciding a career path or having one decided for us? Was it something set in stone decades ago by an ill-equipped, adolescent version of ourselves? That tiny womb-dweller having ‘we are the boys from old Fitzroy’ sung at us through a swollen belly. Was it decided by our parents and the conversations we had around the dinner table, or our community and the examples we had, or the teachers we liked…
At 24, when I decided to get into the Premier League I had the chance for a do-over. I took great care in choosing a soccer team, wanting to avoid the trauma of my past. I wanted a team that was a disciplined and consistent performer with a good academy, a good record of recruitment, strong financials and attractive gameplay.
If and when The Great Resignation, what are the right questions to ask?
What am I passionate about?
What am I good at?
What do I want my life to look like?
Who do I want to spend time around?
Where can I be successful and what does that look like to me?
How much money do I need or want?
What can I afford?
What am I capable of and good enough for?
What is essential?
What is future proof?
Who does this path make me?
Those ill-equipped adolescents get a lifetime full of chances for a do-over but I’m not sure it gets any easier. For one thing, we have to watch out for recency bias – basically, that we’re more likely to make choices or hold beliefs as a result of recent experiences, no matter how rare, than based on what is most common and likely. All the more true when it is traumatic. We’ll likely see the whole world change now as a result of recency bias, in preparation for the once in a lifetime event that has just taken place.
Passion is an interesting one. I follow a professor and author called Scott Galloway who thinks people that say ‘follow your passion’ are already rich. He’s very concerned about financial success because of the opportunities it affords, especially in the US where the difference between being rich and poor is particularly stark. We have the balance better here in Australia but there are definitely times I wish I hadn’t followed my passion into a creative writing degree and in and out of tourism. Certainly, I have felt less important than the economists and engineers, the scientists and the lawyers, and less entitled to an opinion in many a domain. I have some domain expertise, where I feel more entitled, in tourism and in writing and language and less substantially in a few other areas of interest, but often it has cost me my love of the subject matter.
By the time I get remotely good at something I love, I’m pretty much over it. The requisite 10,000 hours or anything close to it is usually a long way past the point of passion for me. Working in tourism is not travelling and something wonderful to read is awfully difficult to write. Expertise is a comparative term in that it usually means you know significantly more than the average person – you’ve been able to persevere long past the point where most people lose interest. Galloway reckons the point at which you’re really over what you’re doing and are ready to give up is actually the time to double down because the greatest rewards are just ahead of you.
In the Premier League, I ended up choosing Arsenal. They’re not Fitzroy, but their performance has been average to shit since I started watching them a decade ago in spite of my best efforts. What is it they say on all those superannuation ads? Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The future is going to be all sorts of things. Even with better questions and clearer answers and all the lessons from history and data, there are no guarantees. Interesting stuff to think about though, and good for the soul.
Good luck with the Great Resignation, let me know how it goes and what you learn along the way.