On a call with a friend six time zones away, I was asked, “Do you think your job is essential?” When the lockdown started to happen, only those with “essential work” could leave home. Essential jobs kept society moving forward. Most of us that had to stay home might have asked, Is my job essential? Not practically, but existentially. If the answer is no, what does essential mean in 2020?
What does it mean to be essential?
Beyond needing money to pay our way through life, when we ask hard questions about our job, it’s often if you should stay at this company or maybe change to something more fulfilling. The question has evolved beyond how to I fulfill my basic needs. The fact that we need money to survive can stop us from asking bigger questions, like “Is my work essential to my life?” or “Is it essential to the world?”
Corona has put it in black and white through lists of occupations that are essential.
If this hasn’t caused you to have a practical or existential debate about your job, I’m not sure what would. If you’re not taking the opportunity to reevaluate your choices, when exactly would you be motivated to? Being home either alone or trapped with your family is forcing many to reevaluate: their finances, inequalities in labor at home and if you have no work wondering when work will start again.
We’re still too deep in the crisis to know how soon, or even if, things will return to normal once it’s over. If so, it will likely be a slow process. Waiting on the other side of this moment is sure to be a deep global recession and an altered landscape of businesses large and small. But it’s also possible that things will change more fundamentally.
This situation is forcing us to reevaluate decisions that we’ve made in the past and maybe make totally new choices.
The future of how we will work, for many, is being decided now. Making decisions when everything is in flux and we’re getting new information daily, is the biggest challenge. As you deliberate, be careful not to make decisions through panic and reacting to uncertainty.
The world is on pause. Use this time to think about resetting something. As we wait to find out what the “new normal” looks like, don’t fight to maintain or achieve what you had before. We should allow this reality to alter us.
It’s not lost on me that creating new priorities and the choice to do so is a privilege. Those fighting for survival will have less time to ponder career or life changes. But this doesn’t mean that they have no choices to make. Making a choice that helps with survival is still incredible, because you can choose to hide from reality. Which I did a few times during lock-down, the ah ha moment for me that I was doing this was Tiger King.
I’ve been writing about the future of work for sometime. Usually I focus on how robots won’t steal our jobs and one of my favorite pieces from last year was writing a resume that a robot can read (yes your resume is read by a robot before a person!). Journalism is essential, but for years I’ve been struggling with how the industry has mutated away from the core values that drew me to it. Changes in business models, paid content, influencers shallow content being esteemed more than smart insightful content,… It has all left me with many questions. The one that’s keeping me up at night is:
What is essential?
The answer will be different for everyone, but it might be the most important question you ask in 2020.