Autonomous Paths Toward the Future

Author: Maya Frai

Editor: Kate Lee

I’ve always been a multi-tasker.

Ever since high school, I’ve spread my skills across a couple of areas and projects. My creative side led me to learn design and how to program, while my operational side was nourished by spending time in public forum debates and developing project plans. As I’ve grown, I’ve tried to maintain a set of projects I contribute to and jobs that I do that make me feel fully useful. To pursue an autonomous career path, I’ve prioritized having the time and space to execute ideas that evolve into a series of personal milestones in my career. 

Humans are bound by the urge to feel needed: nothing short of appreciated, glass half full. It’s what drives self-fulfillment – the longing for utility in one’s life, often driven by work, love, and respect for oneself and their place in the world. There are two parts to this sensation — control and flow. The former speaks to the authority you have to decide what you do, the latter to the state of euphoria you feel doing it. Psychologist Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, who named the concept of flow, explained why it’s so necessary: 

“We can’t afford to become trapped within ourselves, our jobs, and religions, and lose sight of the entire tapestry of life. When the self loses itself in a transcendent purpose — whether to write great poetry, craft beautiful furniture, understand the motions of galaxies, or help children be happier — the self becomes largely invulnerable to the fears and setbacks of ordinary existence.” 

The freedom derived from the fulfillment of one’s desires, hopes, and dreams can be achieved via different paths. For some, it can come at the end of a long, deep journey. We call those who have embarked on it the masters: the athletes, academics, or alpinists who spend 10-plus years pushing their minds and bodies to peak capacity. Self-fulfillment comes at the finish line, the publication date, or the summit. For others, freedom is a byproduct of immense knowledge consumption and varieties of contributions. Failure is suppressed curiosity. We call those on this path the generalists: the knowledge workers, politicians, or business leaders who spend their entire lives going to and from obstacles, learning here and there to look back and only connect the dots 10-plus years later. 

Whether you identify as a master or a generalist, it’s an opportune time for re-examination. Masters can transfer the same level of persistence and focus to a new domain, while generalists can master exposure across several domains. Now more than ever, multifaceted individuals are carving career paths based on their passions, rather than in service of others’ expectations.

Years before the pandemic, the idea of “meaningful work” gained momentum. In 2011, Harvard Business Review published a report titled “meaning is the new money.” Seven years later, the magazine reported that more than 9 out of 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. The idea of finding purpose in one’s profession began to resonate with communities primarily in the U.S., with notions of a 1:1 correlation between high compensation and happiness dissipating. Achieving meaningful work can mean any number of things — like feeling like your work is directly impacting the bottom line, or choosing your own schedule and deciding exactly what you want to spend your time and energy on. 

The pandemic pushed this trend even further. People began to scrutinize their jobs and the companies they worked for to better understand the impact they were making in their daily contributions. McKinsey reported that nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees said that Covid had caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they were reconsidering the work they do because of the pandemic. Millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work. 

By doing the same job with a work-from-home schedule, the collision of personal and professional time led many to re-evaluate how the two intersect to achieve fulfillment. For some people, family became a bigger part of their identities, and they feel more fulfilled by spending more time with their loved ones. For others, this meant taking on new roles and responsibilities outside of their primary job to dabble in something new. Finding respite amid a raging pandemic caused many to ask themselves: how can I devote my time to things that make me feel whole?

“If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom,” wrote Adam Grant. Indeed, self-awareness is a necessary ingredient for adopting an autonomous career path. Respect your curiosities, as well as gaps in knowledge––working on your weaknesses, can reinforce your strengths. For example, if you excel as a real estate agent and can market homes well, you might try marketing a consumer goods brand. What you make up for in lack of domain experience is an adaptable skillset. The wonderful part about honoring your multifaceted interests is that you may surprise yourself with how much of your knowledge is transferable to a different space. Your wisdom compounds with new people in your network (real estate agent meets CPG marketing execs) along with learned nuances and tactics (agent leverages consumer behavior versus investment returns). 

An autonomous career path is ever-evolving and dynamic, and there are several ways to experiment with it. A simple way to approach it is to envision an outcome and work backward to carve out a portfolio of projects. Decide how much time you have to spend and commit to, and see how projects may unfold for you and whether to dive in further (e.g. pursue an event, a partnership, or a writing piece). Your identity becomes tied to the contributions you make, the people you meet, the experiences you have, and the skills you acquire. The easiest way to get into something is to try it on for size. If you’re longing for a sense of autonomy outside of work, start experimenting. 

The tech industry (especially early-stage companies) has been notably hospitable to this career path because of the sector’s openness to experimentation. Witness the growth of web3 and the communities that have sprung up (like FWB social communities and Constitution DAO), all aligned around principles of ownership, autonomy, and community-centric building. The arena for contribution has become even larger and more distributed, wherein groups of people are transferring skill sets across product, marketing, legal, and other fields to roles in web3 communities. These groups have championed and continue to lead the way for work transformation. Your work in web3 is valued more as a contributor than an investor. Creating and contributing value is the continuous stream of work that powers the ecosystem and promotes utility. 

Autonomy and professional fulfillment take time to master. Take inspiration from icons like Joan Didion and Virgil Abloh, both of whom evolved immensely from their early days of editing at Vogue or interning at Fendi, respectively. As a result of constant reinvention and experimentation, they spread their creativity across many mediums, paving careers combining interests in fashion, art, culture, and writing. Their accolades reflect a lifetime of exploration and contribution. To borrow Didion’s own words, “to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself and finds no one at home.”

The greatest thing you can hold near and dear is your self-worth. It is to take full ownership of your core beliefs and values that define who you are. Each day we give a little bit of ourselves to our job, our relationships, and our commitments. The bits we get back in return occur when those outside forces respect the plans we laid for ourselves, the boundaries we set, and the principles we uphold. Self-respect is a result of how consistently and unapologetically you devote time and energy to the things you value most for your individual happiness. 

You might want to be a hedge fund manager who’s diving into public governance. You may be an entrepreneur and part-time content producer. You may be a teacher who organizes local protests. As more workers prioritize a balance between professional fulfillment and personal passions, more resumes will resemble networks rather than bulleted lists. 

The most important thing is understanding yourself and how you can uniquely contribute: what are the skills you know you have that can be most valuable to others? How can others help you tap into parts of you that aren’t being utilized? By and large, we’ll start to see a future where, as Scott Belsky wrote, “professional fulfillment will increasingly be the result of feeling fully utilized.” 

The future of work is coming, and we are all its contributors.

Newstand is where we begin to define this new world of online collaboration. We’re calling for writers, artists, technologists, and researchers across all disciplines to share radical ideas about the future of work enabled by crypto while applying a critical lens.

Newstand is a publication from Station, a toolkit for Web3 digital communities to give power to the people.

Subscribe to Station Labs
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.