Writing in the margins

When I graduated from college I was given two great pieces of career advice.

  1. You will have 15-20 careers before you retire.  Gone are the days of going to work for one company and staying with that company until you retire.
  2. You always have 2 jobs.  The one you have now, and looking for the next one.

I have reflected on and repeated these nuggets at least a hundred times since then and they still hold true.  And then I thought about a very old recipe book that was my grandmothers and how she had taken these recipes, these instructions that were tried and true and she made notes, changes, additions to original instructions to add her spin on them.  She took what lessons and experiences she  had and put them down in the margins so that she and anyone else that read them after her could benefit from her trials and efforts.

I won’t be so bold as to claim I have all the answers, but I have enough miles on my career to have formed some definite thoughts on the matter.

1) You will have 15-20 careers before you retire. Gone are the days of going to work for one company and staying with that company until you retire.

Here is another myth, social security will be gone long before you are old enough to collect on it.  Not only is it your responsibility to plan for your own retirement, but you have find and maintain employment in something that will pay you enough to be able to save.   My mom told my brother and I that we could study anything we wanted to in school, but we had to also study something we could make a living and provide for a family with.

2) You always have 2 jobs.  The one you have now, and looking for the next one.

Sometimes you have to work harder on one than the other, and sometimes the next job is at the same company.  If you want to be a manager, director, vp, or a c-level then you have to set your goals and work hard for it.  Something I have learned recently is that you must also find someone you can bring in and mentor to take your current job so that you can move up yourself.   This roughly translates too “For the love of all that is good find a job that will let you move out of your parents basement”.

3) At some point in your career, hopefully early on, you should get blindsided and be downsized, right-sized, or plain ‘ol fired.

That which does not kill you makes you wish you were dead…..or something like that.   pssst… you are not entitled to anything, life is not fair.   Experiences like this are character building and will teach you a valuable lesson.   Once…a long time ago…from my first job out of college I was blindsided.  It sucked, I was upset, and you know what… I got over it.   Along the way I read this great book,  Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove the former CEO of Intel.  Even though this book was published nearly 15 years ago, it is still relevant.  The whole point of the book is that in work, life, anywhere there are inflection points.  Points in time that even though you may not realize it have a profound impact on your career, business, life.   Learning to recognize these inflection points earlier, hopefully as they are happening, will help you shape your path.

4) At some point in your career, again hopefully early on, you should work for a complete a**hole.

That which does not kill you makes you wish you were dead…..or something like that.   pssst… you are not entitled to anything, life is not fair.   Experiences like this are character building and will teach you a valuable lesson. (I know I cheated and copied the same line from above)  What this will do for you is to help you to appreciate all the good and great bosses and managers that will come after.   I hit this one 4-5 years into my career, and it was brutal.  There were days I would wake up and sit on the side of the bed and sigh, my wife would say “please don’t quit today”.  I spent 2 years in that cycle and I am sure it is the source of my grey hair.   Catch me at Web Analytics event and maybe I’ll share some passive agressive practical jokes I may have been a part of that helped me “cope” 🙂

5) Determine what “work-life balance” means to you.

A company can not create a great work-life balance for you.  This feel good term gets tossed around a good bit and the expectation that seems to exist with most folks is that this is something that can be packaged up and handed out to everyone.   The balance I choose for myself will be vastly different that what balance works for you and your situation.

6) You work for You Inc.

Yourself, your family, your pets even…they are your primary shareholders.  No one else.   I am not saying you should be a pure self serving person, but you have to know at the end of the day that the work that pays the bills is serving to provide for You Inc, and sometimes it is necessary to put them first.  Sometimes you have to stay in a job that is not your dream job to provide for  You Inc.  This is different that staying in a job like I described in #4, but this is knowing that sometimes a short term (2 year) stint in a job that will serve as a platform to bigger and better things is worth any sort of personal sacrifice you are making.

7) Dance like no one is watching.

Also known as….don’t be afraid to fail, give it your all, do your best.   My mom pushed us hard in school, but she did not expect us to be perfect.  She did expect us to be perfect in our effort and to give everything we did our very best, and as long as we gave something our true best effort then she was proud of us.   Do the same thing for yourself, give your work, your colleagues, your company your best and let the chips fall where they may.  If at the end of the day you can truly say that you gave it your very best, then that is all you can do.   Oh and no one wants to see me dance.  Eliane on Seinfeld can dance better than me.

Like any recipe these items are open for interpretation and modifications.  The secret is to take your experiences and apply them to see if you can make it work for you.  Go and make your own notes in the margins.

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