Twilight of the Cocktail Party Career
Why workers are prioritizing fulfillment over prestige
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“So, what do you do?”
Ever since this question became common, workers have sacrificed professional fulfillment to ensure they have an impressive-sounding answer. But, as COVID has transformed our behaviors, our prioritization of fulfillment and prestige in our career decisions has started to shift.
To illustrate, here’s a 2x2 matrix to represent the psychological value of your career:
On the vertical axis, there’s prestige, which measures the social status you get from your career. On the horizontal, there’s fulfillment, which measures the intrinsic value that your career provides.
The jobs that sit in the high prestige, low fulfillment quadrant are what I call cocktail party careers (CPC). While their day-to-day responsibilities aren’t particularly enjoyable, they sound impressive when explained at cocktail parties, class reunions, or on social media.
While some professions have a higher tendency to become cocktail party careers, no job is universally unfulfilling. Plenty of management consultants, investment bankers, and big tech employees love what they do. However, many have recently woken up to the realization that these roles are no longer suited to the lives they want to live.
So what’s diminishing the attractiveness of the Cocktail Party Career?
For one, we haven’t been going to as many cocktail parties. As silly as this may sound, without the ego boost of social validation, many people have had to evaluate their jobs on the sole basis of their day-to-day schedule. Rather than regaling strangers with the interesting aspects of their work, they find themselves dissecting the tedium of their jobs with roommates and spouses.
Remote work has also diminished the prestige that CPC holders get to feel on a day-to-day basis. Consider the workday of an executive or high-level manager: where they once spent their days working in an office, getting to feel the status of their position, they now spend their working hours at home. There is no more corner office. No more opportunities to walk the hallways seeing their status reflected in the faces of their colleagues.
Finally, as work has gone remote, many CPC holders have gotten the chance to leave the communities that once fueled their desire to sacrifice fulfillment for prestige. As these status-driven social scenes lose their hold on people so too will the drive to prioritize prestige over fulfillment.
Does this mean prestige will no longer factor into our career choices? Of course not. But I do expect that fulfillment will become a much more important factor. I expect to see more high-powered lawyers leaving their white-shoe law firms to become public defenders. More quota-crushing salespeople starting their own coaching practices. More big tech employees launching startups. As these fulfillment-led career transitions become normalized, perhaps they will become more acceptable to share when we someday return to a regular cadence of cocktail parties.
Invisible College Update
Invisible College (the web3 learning DAO I’m helping build) is launching our NFT collection at the end of the month! The holders of our Decentralien NFTs will get lifetime access to all the courses, educational programming, and learning community at Invisible College.
We’re basically trying to answer the question: what if you give students the opportunity to own the school?
If you’re interested in getting into our pre-sale, or if you’re just curious to learn more about the community, I’d recommend hopping into our Discord.
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Until next time,
Thanks to those who provided feedback on early drafts like: Ashley deWilde, Christina Ren, Dan Hunt, Paul Millerd, Sara Campbell, Sindhu Shivaprasad.