To outpace the rat race: 40 years in the same career track can make even the most dynamic person development-resistant

When I, as a young hopeful graduate, started my career at Lego, I daily passed the “Hall of Fame” on my way to the canteen. Rows of portraits of colleagues who had achieved 15th and 25th anniversaries adorned the wall.

The reality today is that very few people are going to celebrate their 25+ year anniversary in the same company. Both companies’ average life expectancy is declining and our loyalty to employers is declining as well. In parallel with this, our life expectancy is rising and the expectations from the politicians are that they want us to “just stay a little longer” on the labour market.

The discussion is raging these days on behalf of the unskilled and worn out. But it definitely also provides food for thought for the rest of us.

Personally, I have chosen to aim for 70+ as my expected retirement age, and that has set several reflections in motion.

How do you organize a working life from the 20s to 70+, where you meet the demands and needs of the labour market, and at the same time balance it with personal aspirations for development, breaks or change of scenes?

40+ years in the same career track can make even the most dynamic person a bit development resistant.

Expectations for leaders are many and they are rooted. Here are three initiatives that can push for existing practice:

Become a good leader – even if you begin after the age of 35

Historically, it has been about making careers fast. Raise your hand and say yes to leadership positions, preferably before the age of 30. For many women, this is a challenge, as these are the times in which you want to start a family.

The women I advise who are in their late 30s / early 40s, on the other hand, are in control of family life and are ready to step on it purely career-wise. We as organizations need to be far better at allowing talent to flourish when they are ready.

A valuable colleague – even if you no longer want management responsibilities

They exist and I meet them more and more often. Leaders who, at some point in their careers, want to return to focusing on the task or recognize that the heavy day-to-day management responsibilities were not as promising as first assumed.

When a valuable colleague who no longer wants management responsibilities leaves the company, they are most often sorted out in the pile which reads “overqualified”. It is a huge waste.

We must be far better at making room for experienced leaders who, in the clear light of self-knowledge, have chosen to seek new pastures.

They are professionally valuable and are important mentors for younger colleagues entering the labour market.

More careers within the career

I am personally in the process of both my 3rd and 4th careers – the careers as resp. self-employed and board professional. The first 20+ years have been about being 120 per cent. dedicated to one organization and its strategic challenges. Today, I have chosen a relatively significant turnaround for the next 20 years.

The decision was motivated by a clear desire to have the opportunity to work across companies and strategic issues.

The mantra that drives me today is the opportunity to “be more for more”. I can only encourage one to consider and plan conscious scene changes to challenge oneself, both mentally and professionally. It has given me the energy and the desire to innovate for the last 20+ years in the labour market.

I experience more and more leaders who either throw themselves into it or curiously ask how to go about the task.

Common to them all is that the thought of letting the rat race control the rest of your career seems daunting. They have my full understanding.

As professionally competent managers and companies, we all have a responsibility to think about our careers further ahead. Whether it’s for 70+ is a matter of temperament.

It will be crucial, however, that we reinvent our relationship to the labour market and interaction with experienced employees and managers.

These are my suggestions for how we think about long-term career planning and job satisfaction as leaders in a rapidly evolving labour market.