Choosing the winning side for your career

Reading the papers or switching on the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Australia is the last place to build a career. We’ve heard the economy is a mess, that retailers are struggling, and we’ve all become ‘battlers’ caught between the high cost of living and job insecurity. However, the recent Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report ranked Australians as the richest people in the world, with a median wealth of US$220,000 (about AU$233,500). So things can’t actually be all that bad.

Australia avoided the recessions that blighted other economies. Retail figures may be down, but they’re not shutting doors in the same way they are on the high streets in Europe and the US. And, house values remain as high as ever. So why do Aussies feel like the world is ending?

I have a theory. It’s because Australia lost The Ashes.

Granted, my theory won’t necessarily stand up to academic scrutiny. But it does suggest an answer to why Australian national pride often seems at odds with actions when following career paths.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

When I moved to Australia in 2003, Sydney was still basking in the afterglow of the 2000 Olympic Games. National pride was high. The Aussies ruled almost any sporting field that the green and gold sought to conquer. Sure, the cost of living was still high, but there was a strong sense of Australia being the “lucky” country. Everyone felt secure.

However, this sense of security didn’t stretch to careers. The pervading wisdom appeared to be that if you wanted a good career, you were better off overseas.

That’s quite a contradiction. Working in Robert Half’s London office 10 or more years ago, I saw large numbers of young Australian professionals arrive in the UK in search of better career opportunities. London’s economy depended hugely on attracting Australian and New Zealand talent to meet the huge demands of local business. This wasn’t just in London; Aussies flocked to the UK, Europe and the US to stake their claim in a careers gold rush. Meanwhile, many Australian employers struggled with a perception that Australia was only a small pond with little room for careers to grow.

A reversal of fortunes

In 2008, the GFC hit. And both the US and UK were hit much harder than Australia. Yet national pride in the UK is on a huge high right now. Why? London hosted the Olympic Games last year. Their cricket team reclaimed and retained the Ashes. England is winning on the sports field, even if they may be losing on the high street. And when the Brits win, the whole country feels like winners.

As before, the attitude to careers is far more rooted in the economic reality. While outwardly people may wave their flags and get swept up in the joy of being on the winning side, inwardly they yearn for greater security and more opportunities. And that means Australia.

Changing ends

No doubt this will change again in the future. Many Australians are beginning to look to Asia rather than Europe for greater opportunities, and this may create a different shift in the coming years. But for now, despite the pervading gloom among Australian headlines, the country remains “lucky” for those looking to further their careers.

So why are Aussies so pessimistic despite this trend? Maybe their perception is somehow linked in some small way to dominance (or lack of it) on the sporting field.

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