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Different phases, different wants and needs

When engineers embark on a new car design they look at two types of features that the new car should have. Wants are the features that it would be nice to have and needs are those things that are absolutely essential for the new car to be competitive in the marketplace.

Applying the same construct to your life you should be able to distinguish between items such as housing, health care, and other living expenses on the one hand and the nice to haves such as holidays and sports clubs on the other. You may have found that you learned to live without things during the pandemic that you thought were essential.

I was sharing some of the ideas in Learning to Fly with members of IESE’s Alumni Association a couple of weeks ago and one of the participants, who was with us in the classroom, asked about the degree to which the things we might be looking for in a job change as we move into different phases in our lives.

Linda Gratten and Andrew Scott make the point in The Hundred Year Life that we do look for different things at different times in our lives.

There is a time in many professional people’s lives when they are primarily interested in gaining experience in their chosen field and improving their professional situation. Perhaps motivated by money or just involved in deepening their skill set, this phase often coincides with being single or in a relationship with no children or other dependents. I remember being in my mid 20s and essentially working all the time. I had just graduated from business school and was working for a charismatic and demanding boss. I loved it.

These days this phase often happens a bit later in many people’s lives after an earlier phase where experimentation – including role, place, and space – seems to be the most important thing. Again, in the context of a hundred-year life, Gratten and Scott make the case that people in their 20s have plenty of time to figure out what they are good at and where and how they want to live.

Children and other commitments, if you have them, change things. Stability becomes important as does making choices about how much time to spend at home or at work or traveling. Looking back, it took me too long to change gears and focus on the things that I now know to be more important in life.

Things change again when kids grow up and first become more independent and then eventually move on to pursue their own hopes and ambitions. Again the mix of wants and needs will shift for most people as they deal with empty nests and maybe start thinking about their own future and possible retirement. It is, of course, important to start planning as soon as you can but not everyone has the foresight and discipline to do so.

One thing that is clear is that retirement, as it has been considered is a luxury that not all of us will be able to enjoy at 60 or 65 simply because we will live many years after that and we may not have saved enough or we may not be ready to give up working.

What I see many of my friends over 60 doing is a combination of work that is more project related than steady employment. It might have something to do with “giving back” to a community or society or simply working in relatively low-paid positions either because they give some other satisfaction or because it’s all you can get.

Financially, you may have already paid off the house or apartment and monthly expenses are low enough to be able to afford to work at a slower pace or in a role or space which just does not pay very well.

In any case, the answer to the question is YES! both wants and needs will change.



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