Alain de Botton is an essayist and author known for writing on the "philosophy of everyday life." He's written about love, travel, careers, and more—with a particular focus on what brings us (or what we "think" brings us) fulfillment in life.
In this TED Talk, he examines our modern ideas about success and failure, and asks the audience to question the root cause of our insecurities when it comes to our careers. While anyone who has thought, "What am I doing with my life?" will relate to de Botton's insightful and humorous presentation, his talk is especially relevant for those who help shape others' careers. For HR leaders, managers, and executives, understanding how to help people define their own success is critical to achieving success as an organization.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.
"I think we live in an age when our lives are regularly punctuated by career crises."
While it's easier than ever to make a good living, de Botton explains, people seem more unsatisfied with their careers than ever before. This is due, in part, to the belief that anyone can make it if they're smart enough—with energy, bright ideas, and the right amount of grit, we could all be the next Bill Gates. And if you aren't? Well, it's easy to feel like a loser. "People take what happens to them extremely personally—they own their success, but they also own their failure," says de Botton.
Company leaders should take a few things away from this: First, almost everyone has some form of career doubt. Second, if employees really do have a crisis and want to try something new, consider offering horizontal career moves or outside training to keep great talent from leaving your organization.
"You don't necessarily know what someone's true value is."
Our obsession with finding a "dream career" isn't simply a personal problem—as de Botton highlights, we also often judge other people by their career choices. We might envy them, or they might make us feel a little better about our own choices. Either way, de Botton says we need to stop summing people up based on one question, "What do you do?" This is a difficult task for HR leaders who spend their days trained to judge people based on career experience, but it's a good reminder to look outside the box for talent and consider a range of backgrounds.
"We should focus in on our ideas, and make sure that we own them; that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions."
How do we manage career anxiety—for ourselves and others? de Botton says it comes down to looking for a different definition of success, one driven by internal rather than external stimuli. Company leaders should define their own version of success, but they should also help employees outline their values and ambitions at work. "Let's make sure our ideas of success are truly our own," says de Botton.