(Photo: nyt. An intensive care bed at University Hospital Dresden in Germany. To the right of the bed is a ventilator and infusion equipment.Credit…Ronald Bonss/Picture Alliance. Career Trajectory On Ventilator)
Career ambitions are in different battle zones, mostly uncharted, just like the new normal. Working from home has changed the location and size of the trenches.
Fighting in hand to hand combats, and shooting at close range in the office for superiority has stopped. But punching the screen during zoom meetings are the new normal for some.
‘Hit the break’, furlough shout out.
‘Take the retrenchment pill and stop the pain’, another senior officer ordered. ‘We may lose more men and women, but not this battle front’.
‘Where is my career, it was on a fast lane trajectory, few months ago.’
A young officer stumbled out of a heap of rubble. He has five stars on his jacket shoulder. And a super high flyer-duper CEO potential tag on his helmet.
COVID-19 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft just dropped Coronavirus GBU-39 Small diameter virus bomb, a 250-pound, GPS-guided munition.
“I embraced the rat race before I knew I was a rat.”
He survived furlough, a sack, pay cut, and work from home. As a super essential staff, he still goes to the office everyday. He staggers, trying to hold the air to stabilize himself, finding it difficult to escape the survivor guilt.
‘Sit down now’, commander work life balance ordered.
‘You cannot escape the smoke, dust and flying rubble splinters. The impact of the dropped Coronavirus GBU-39 Small diameter virus bomb is deadly. It is already all over you. Your career trajectory is on a ventilator’.
‘Career trajectory on ventilator, help,’ he cries out.
Video Game – Super Mario Career Trajectory On Ventilator
In the video game Super Mario, the goal is to get coins, and hit blocks. Get sharp eyes to look for shortcuts, and importantly, run whenever possible to level up.
“Unless absolutely necessary, never stop running. Remember, you have a time limit to finish the level, and the faster you get through, the better your score will be,” states the WikiHow page on the game.
It is an ominous warning. For as long as I can remember, this was eerily analogous to my career trajectory which began way before entering the workforce.
“Never mind that my goalposts shifted as soon as I reached them. The overall goal was to keep running. Whether that meant hitting the next promotion, getting a salary increase, or doubling down on ambition.”
Along with many Singaporean millennials, I learnt the importance of dreaming big, being passionate and giving my all from young. I firmly believed hard work and passion were the two unicorn coins I had to grab and hold to proceed to the next level in life.
In school, this translated into zealous goal-setting and over achievement. Every milestone was a fleeting but significant dopamine hit that left me wanting more. Running to get more and more, even as I got to all the “coins” and “blocks” I was supposed to.
Type A Person, Rate Race and Halted Career Trajectory
I embraced the rat race before I knew I was a rat. This made my first few years in the workforce relatively breezy.
Like any self-respecting Type A person, my body was chronically attuned to ambition. Never mind that my goalposts shifted as soon as I reached them. The overall goal was to keep running. Whether that meant hitting the next promotion, getting a salary increase, or doubling down on ambition.
Then my video game was short circuited by, well, the circuit breaker.
When I was made to slow down, I realised many of my old habits were unsustainable. Not least my relationship with career and ambition. The hamster wheel was all I knew, but it could not continue.
AN UNHEALTHY DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
Unless you’re one of the psychotic few who’s managed to be productive during a pandemic, COVID-19 has forced most of us to reconsider our somewhat acceptable working cultures.
Stuck at home, the performative aspects of work have fallen away. Joined in the same locker room like normal staff, you no longer feel the need to dress up for work or engage in office politics. The new normal superiority contest trenches has no room yet, for keeping tabs on which colleagues are getting plum assignments.
Many have long gathered their core sense of identity from professional accomplishments, turbocharged by social norms and cultural expectations.
A New Normal For Ambition And Super Charged Career Trajectory
When we are this focused on constantly striving for more, the enforced slower pace of life can be more uncomfortable than expected. This is the time to rethink our idea of ambition, even if it can be disorienting. Start early, because it requires a shift in perspective for what we’ve been told is a fundamental part of our identity.
On one hand, not everyone has the luxury to use this down time to reflect on broader values and beliefs. That is no excuse, even though you’re stressing over financial fallout or have to deal with retrenchment.
But while grappling with uncertainty can make you more determined to hold onto any remaining semblance of control over your lives, now is the time for change.
Start now, by meticulously planning your ‘rebirth’ career trajectory in the new normal. The need to redefine professional ambition isn’t a bad thing.
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