Listen to the podcast to endure my rantings on the run.
This article is for those of you that have spent their whole lives in the system and realize, sadly, a little too late, that the world has changed and you are being forced to reinvent yourselves just to survive.
So, looks like you’ve made it. You spent 40 years grinding it out in the corporate blender and punched out before you got automated or digitized. In all of those decades, you always had a pretty good idea of where you stood in your own little world. Buying in to the perception that your last reward or recognition would carry you through to a retirement party in a fancy restaurant. How’s that working for ya?
Sure, the knife holes are healing and most of your real or imagined career threats have moved on or retired. Or better yet, passed on :). You lived through new management, take overs, gossip, buy outs, and let’s not forget that scary venture capital mess. You somehow managed to survive it all. Your annual reviews reflected your strengths and weaknesses and your career path, (from their view,) and of course, your contribution to the mother ship, that entity that controlled everything from somewhere in New Jersey or Delaware, where some nameless, faceless auditor could end your career with one funky expense report. My biggest fear.
But, let’s be honest, you had to give up a lot, (almost everything) to maintain your lifestyle to feed and educate your family. You were effectively (and voluntarily) bound and gagged and put on the “team” and you let them set your career trajectory for you. So who are you now?
That nagging little question that gnaws away at you while you’re shaving both your chins in the morning on your way to the pancake house to talk sports and politics with your other “out to pasture” brethren. Who are you now?
For years, review after review, you sat across some clown who couldn’t carry your laptop and you had to endure every word or “concern,” as they like to put it. You proved yourself flexible and tenacious. You took it on the chin, or other places, for the team. You really had no other options, did you? You forgot it was just a game. Smoke and mirrors with a punchline. Should of thought about that, eh? That was then.
Finally, you hit the finish line. The end zone. You can ditch the knee pads, the pretense and the false modesty. You can shake it off. Now, you’re all dressed up with no face to go. Who are you now?
If you are one of those unfortunate individuals who considered yourself doing time and sat there rigidly at your desk with an egg timer, then this piece is not for you. Every day for you is your parole date on a Groundhog Day schedule. A day full of doing nothing is better than what you were doing. All those years devoted to something you would never voluntarily do on your own. And who are you now?
The price you paid for your comfort is working against you now, isn’t it? You never got the opportunity to develop You, Inc. You didn’t have to. Those skills atrophied over the years and now, when you need them, are nowhere to be found. All your career you could sell anything…. but you. You never became who you were supposed to be.
If you are anywhere from your mid forties to mid sixties, you know first hand what I’m talking about. If you’ve been rolled out of an organization you thought was a “womb to tomb,” proposition and have been uploading your resume into nowhere, you know that empty, confused feeling. You have been rejected by a keyword. Ouch! Shit, we have lots of “you’s” to fill those rapidly diminishing positions. So who are you now?
Everywhere I go these days, I see offices full of thirty-somethings doing mundane tasks and fetching coffee with a joyful attitude and of course, a very modest salary. What used to be your competitive salary. They still live with their parents and not only drinking the Kool-Aid, they’re bathing in it. I provide multimedia services all over the east coast and it’s the same everywhere I go.
In my career of 32 years, I had an advantage because I never once did anything in my whole career that was considered inside the lines. I personalized, bent and distorted every position I was ever given and made it virtually impossible to follow me. I could be completely unmanageable.
But I had the numbers. It worked against me at times. It kept me in sales, or carrying the bag, far longer than I wished. I used to puke in the bushes on the walkway of the account I was visiting. It became unbearable. I started to love confrontations with unmanageable customers. I enjoyed it even more when my manager was with me. They hated it.
My opinion: If you carry a bag for more than five years, you are only fooling yourself. You are just waiting for a bus. You can’t wake up every day in that Willie Loman existence and give everything you’ve got. Sales is about timing and opportunity. Anyone in a home office that’s never done it, should never be in that position.
For me, sales became torture. Liar’s poker with a company car. Everyone should spend time in sales but It’s not a lifetime commitment. But, not to worry, some geek is engineering your replacement now, so you might give some attention to developing yourself as a marketable commodity. You better have a chair when that music stops.
Taking advantage of the archaic system I was part of and being forced to stay conscious during a process I cared absolutely nothing for, my Type A mind would always wander off. Luckily, I learned video production on their dime and turned my job into a virtual studio. It spread quickly and soon I was in demand all over the west.
Before the web became what it is today, I bought every domain name of every existing and potential customer in my territory. I got calls years later inquiring about my ownership and asking if I would relinquish it.
I was off the reservation because I always made it up as I went along. I didn’t have formal training in anything. For that, I am very grateful. I will be continuing this conversation because I think it’s important given the ever changing landscape and how most career paths are turning into dead end streets.
Your life, from now on, will depend on your ability to generate ideas and niches that only you can fill. Big companies don’t want you anymore unless it’s on their strict and frugal terms. We are living longer and we need to stay relevant. If you think you can just be Principal, (insert name here) Group, Consultancy, think again. So let’s do, let’s think again.