Career 2020 or Nine Old Tales Die Hard

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Picture these scenarios: a senior professional bumping her head against the glass ceiling; a highly educated man at the end of his public service career who wants to contribute differently; a young woman, not yet 25, thinking of getting a PhD and puzzled by the choices ahead. What each of these stories has in common is the need for new tactics to manage a career in the year 2010 and on to 2020.

While many of us have ingrained ideas and internalized stories about what to do and not to do with our professional lives, as a career coach for the last 20 years I have come to recognize that the good old “folk tales” or storylines don’t work anymore.

What follows is not a prescription, but an invitation, to challenge some common assumptions that may no longer be useful. If you are content where you are, this is not for you. If you feel some restlessness, read on….

1. Old Tale: Play it safe!

New reality: Playing it safe won’t make it safe. There are very few safe havens in the world of work today. Your safety net is comprised of your skills which must be current, your network which must be wide and deep, and your intention which must be clear. You already know if you are happy or unhappy with your career, or your life for that matter. Rationalizing, while staying immobile, is a recipe for burnout.

Some say it’s a risk to move and change. Do you know of individuals who have explored new paths by staying where they are? Risk is a condition of existence. And.. .in case you are thinking change takes too much energy, think of the energy it takes to keep yourself immobilized. I’ve been there and it’s exhausting!

2. Old Tale: I want a J.O.B.

New reality: You don’t want a job, you want work. There is plenty of work, while jobs in the traditional sense are disappearing. Most employers have a smaller and smaller core of employees and don’t want more. Who wants to manage a large permanent workforce!? On the other hand, the outer circle of contractors, consultants, lobbyists, project managers, temporary help professionals etc. keep growing. Even if you have a job, make sure you continue to look for work… that you enjoy!

Recommended Read: Career Intelligence by Barbara Moses

3. Old Tale: Someone will notice my good work eventually

New reality: Go after what you want, don’t wait. You may be waiting a long time for Mr. Right or that Perfect Job to come along. The work you want you must create. The job you seek you must create. If it’s already created, it probably belongs to somebody else. Whether it’s advertized or not, 90% of the time jobs are already assigned to someone else. In my days as a professional in the Executive Search business, ads were often there to promote the organization and its visibility, or to attract high flyers working for competitors. Sometimes it was a tactic to eliminate someone the company didn’t want through a due process, or to bring someone it wanted in through this same due process. You can apply, apply, apply, or you can go out there and network to find opportunities that are tailor-made for you.

Recommended Read: Check out books and articles by Gael and Stuart Lidenfield, Jeff Taylor (Monster), or Dian Darling

4. Old Tale: I will get there on my own merit ( a modified number 3)

New reality: Of course you have merit, but you are not an island. We all are network-dependent. Your network is the most efficient way to get what you want. Once you have figured out what you want (more on this in future newsletters), tell others, get curious about what they do, go for coffee, lunch, dinner. Always thank them for the information generously shared, and keep them in the loop about what you are doing. The work, the contracts, the projects worth having, will appear with a little help from your network.

Recommended Read: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell or Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel.

5. Old Tale: I have all the education and knowledge I need

New reality: No you don’t. It is not possible to sell thinking that is decades old. You need to keep reading, keep growing, and keep investing in you. If you do not have new perspectives, how can you possibly convince someone else you have something worthwhile to offer? Broaden your horizon by trying different projects in your organization, learning new skills, volunteering or engaging in creative/artistic endeavours. What is the worst that can happen? If you learn nothing new you run the risk of becoming obsolete.

6. Old Tale: I have to sell myself and I hate selling

New reality: You sell yourself every time you open your mouth and even when you don’t. What is NOT effective in the 21st century is Push Marketing, where you push yourself onto potential employers, clients, colleagues. Push goes something like this: I have these degrees, this experience, I can do this and that, you need my services and I need a contract or an assignment. Hire me! What you need instead is Pull Marketing and Pull goes like this: “Great to see you. What are you up to?… Why don’t I put you in contact with …. I have had the pleasure of working with X in Y area. Would you care to be on my e-list or linked up on ABC social media for me to provide you with the results of my research about Z”….

7. Old Tale: If I can just find my niche!

New reality: The world of one job for life, one career for life, is gone. Think in multiples, think speed dating… Kidding aside, it used to be that staying in one job for less than three years was bad for your résumé. In the mid-nineties, I was told that I was basically unstable because I had changed jobs every few years. Now you have to explain why you stayed somewhere for five years, to demonstrate that you have not been repeating the same experience five times! Rethink what you want, try something new. You have many niches in you … along a continuum of possibilities.

8. Old Tale: You must specialize to be successful

New reality: If you are highly specialized, this is an asset only if you are ready to move to where that specialization is needed. Wanting to stay in one city, one country, and still advance or find lucrative employment in your specialization may be a stretch in the new world of work. If you love your specialty, be ready to move to pursue that dream. If you love your city or country, then you may need to diversify to remain in that environment.

9. Old Tale: There is no career after you turn 50

New reality: Think Renaissance man or woman. Many talents, packaged and repackaged, updated, renewed. Often my clients’ ‘post-career’ careers occur at the junction where paid work skills and unpaid work passions meet. For example, if you love to entertain and are a diplomat, maybe a high end bed and breakfast (wait for me!) appeals. Maybe you are a poet and want to help transform people in organizations Maybe you paint and also coach professionals, so how about doing both. The best careers are fusion careers that best express your own brand of genius. And… as I have seen with my 78 year old mother who went from poor beginnings in Haiti, to become a MD, then a Pathologist, and eventually a Psychiatrist (at 40 + with 6 kids), and who is now becoming a writer, I know it’s never too late.

Recommended read: Anything by David Whyte –the organizational poet.

“Trust that what you can imagine is possible. Trust… and you will make it so.”

Dominique Dennery