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The Next Normal: Career Lessons Learned From Jimmy Carter

Linda Rossetti shares three factors that translate into an emergent new normal for our careers alongside actionable insights from President Jimmy Carter.

What’s next for you from a career perspective? Are you part of the full-scale retreat initiated during the pandemic? Or are you fully in the game despite a feeling that the game itself is rigged against you?

Photo: Linda Rossetti, founder of The Transition Institute, LLC | Courtesy
Photo: Linda Rossetti, founder of The Transition Institute, LLC | Courtesy

For many of us, the past three years have been a time of reckoning for the careers we once imagined. Let’s face it, most of us were conditioned to think of a career crossroads as unusual. In fact, pre-pandemic a career crossroads typically carried a mantle of negativity. Don’t believe me? Imagine if your neighbor, a physician, mentioned that she was leaving medicine. Would it take any more than a nanosecond for your internal voice to say, “I wonder what’s wrong?”

The new normal in careers will eradicate this negative thinking and follow a continual expansion and renewal pattern. This continual renewal is a step beyond the lifelong single-employer relationship of past decades. This new normal speaks to the heart of our very concept of what a career is or could be.

A few leaders have illustrated what this type of new normal looks like with careers. Take, for example, the career of President Jimmy Carter, who described it as follows:

“I have been a farmer, a naval officer, a Sunday school teacher, an outdoorsman, a democracy advocate, a builder, [a] governor of Georgia, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And from 1977-1981, I had the privilege of serving as the 38th president of the United States.”

What’s striking about his career description is its illustration of the new pattern of expansion for 21st-century careers. We will all need to mirror his approach in the decades ahead.


An emerging new normal for careers

While the pandemic accelerated the arrival of this new normal, it is here to stay for three reasons:


1. Economic changes will eliminate single-lifetime occupations.

Our economy is being reshaped thanks to the technology industry’s long-promised efficiencies. We can now close the financial accounting books of a business at month-end with the click of a button instead of a full staff. We can tool a new factory almost entirely with robotics. We can even write an English term paper using AI tools. These advances translate into the elimination of scores of jobs and an ongoing pressure to move into and out of occupational roles over the arc of a career.


2. Employee sentiment about work is changing.

The post-pandemic worker places a greater emphasis than ever before on values alignment with their employers. These trends were introduced by millennials more than a decade ago and have been adopted and extended What is unique about this time is that employees are voting with their feet, as illustrated by the great resignation. These shifts in sentiments will add further pressure to our concept of a career and what it needs to be.


3. The career arc is forever altered.

Societal advances, like increases in longevity, are demanding a fundamental rethinking of the roles, sequence, and profile of work. Not only are retirement parties a thing of the past, but we are also learning about the importance of workplace involvement beyond our mid-sixties thanks to benefits that accrue to mental acuity, socialization, and financial well-being.


These three factors translate into an emergent new normal for our careers and the need to continually reimagine occupational identity over our adult lives. Like Carter, who described himself as a statesperson, an advocate, a Sunday school teacher, a farmer, and a leader, we will all need to learn how to redefine our occupational selves.

It’s important to note that Carter did not leave the White House and instantly embarked on a new career. He began by holding a conversation, then another. He took an initial step, learned a few things, and then took another step until he created the Carter Center. He kept turning in a direction that aligned with an important intersection — what he was learning and his own internal barometer for what mattered.

Our new normal careers will demand a new set of skills — a self-directedness, an ability to navigate change repeatedly, and an ability to contribute to and build communities.

That last skill is perhaps Carter’s most significant achievement and his largest gift to our thinking about careers. It’s apparent in all his identity markers – Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President, Governor, grandfather. He may have led from his heart, but he never went alone. That’s important advice for all of us navigating this new normal.


Linda Rossetti is a business leader, Harvard MBA, former Fortune 500 executive, and pioneering researcher on individuals’ experience at the crossroads of their lives. She is the founder of The Transition Institute, LLC, a firm that partners with corporations, nonprofits, and individuals on a new way to successfully move through major changes. Her work has been featured on NPR, NECN, CBS/WBZ, Money Magazine, SMARTBrief, the BBJ, and other outlets. Her new book is Dancing with Disruption: A New Approach to Navigating Life’s Biggest Changes (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, May 5, 2023). Learn more at lindarossetti.com.


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