As I left school in 1980, aged eighteen and headed off to study law, I had a vague notion of what a career might mean, but no idea about what retirement might mean.

If you had pressed me, I might have thought that retiring in my fifties would be about right, with a decent chance to enjoy travel and grandchildren before my hips and my mind gave up. Then, my idea of retirement would not have been based on the idea of financial security, but more about my expected lifespan and wanting to enjoy my time while I still had some energy left.

Here I am now, sixty years old and hoping that my world of work, my career, will help sustain my mind, body and soul for at least the next two decades.

If you are a twenty-something entering the world of work this year, and if you have been lucky enough to live in the prosperous West with the full benefit of education and health care, then your life expectancy will be approaching one hundred years old, and you will probably work for the next sixty years.

Children aged five this year and in their first formal year of schooling, may have a seventy-five-year career to look forward to.

This thought alone should make us want to question the whole idea of what a career means. It can no longer be a twenty-five-year trolley dash funnelling us along the same structured aisles of forced progression until we reach the checkout, like factory farmed middle-aged, middle-class sheep, burnt out, disillusioned and wandering what it has all been about.

Things are changing. We are at the start of something that will only become more pronounced and more important. As we transition to a working life that for our grandchildren might be up to seventy-five years long, I believe five ideas will guide them, and we are starting to see these ideas emerge now.

The first is that communities and networks will matter more to us than buildings or brands. The people we help and the people who help us are our most precious investment. If we commit to a purpose that is about our values, our integrity and our ability to join with people to make a difference, we will go far beyond paper thin promises that we stick on our walls, and release ourselves from the chains of HR sponsored spreadsheet progression and become people again.

Second, is that we will get even better at valuing everyone and everything at every stage of our lives. Our stories matter to the world, but first they must matter to us. CVs are for algorithms, but your story is for you, your family, your community and your legacy – we must learn to tell them well. Age, menopause, gender, race and disability will become irrelevant. In a twenty-five-year career, if you do not fit, you are lost, but in a seventy-five-year career we cannot leave anyone behind; we will all count and there will be a space and role for all of us.

Third, we must learn to celebrate what we can do, and not punish what we cannot do. We must focus on our strengths not our weaknesses. We spend far too long on our weaknesses for a marginal, temporary and too often miserable gain. Let us ask of others what they can do and ask of them to be brilliant at those things. Our world does not divide between people who are strong at everything or weak at everything; it is a false and hopeless paradigm to force ourselves into bell-curves of incompetence.

Fourth and fundamentally we are becoming increasingly aware that whatever job we have, we are just passing through. In any role we are simply working in temporary coalitions where purpose and fulfilment should matter more than status and formulaic career progression. In a seventy-five-year career we will learn that leadership and followership will be passed around and interchanged according to the strengths, experience and expertise in the group. Groups will harness our opportunity to make our difference, or we will leave. We will learn that a supportive culture where integrity, truth, consistency and fairness are important, is always going to be a kinder and more fulfilling place to work than somewhere that makes us run with the bulls whatever short-term rush of adrenalin there may be.

Finally, leaders and leadership will not be about providing artificial objectives and disconnected financial incentives; it will be about offering learning, growth, purpose and fairness. We will gravitate to kinder places. A career will be multiple and sometimes simultaneous roles, some paid, some voluntary, creating a narrative of life-long learning, where people are valued for what they can do and where the value of a team is achieved through appreciating each and every contribution.

Primary school teachers today are glimpsing the future of the world of work in the minds of the children they are starting to shape; while those of us at the far end of our working lives are digging the trenches for the foundations of their extraordinary careers to come.

Take care xx