Career building

Last Saturday was a year, to the day, since I was laid off. I’ve already tested my readers’ patience talking about my journey into joblessness and back, so I’ll try not to tempt fate any farther.

But the last two years have given me a very interesting, unique – and valuable – education about steering one’s career, finding a job, and what having a job means today. On the way up, I learned a great deal about how to steer and maneuver my career. I learned a lot about office politics (partly because I wrote about it, and partly because I lived it).

And when I was laid off, I learned the real, barebones, practical ways to find a job. I learned that finding a job is a full-time job, and networking is everything.

We’re still hearing of companies implementing layoffs. I know of a few people who have had The Grinch steal their Christmas – and their job description. That 10% unemployment rate that’s quoted in the media? Is almost double that, because it’s only really counting people who are claiming unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people, like me, ran out of benefits and simply no longer count.

I am really grateful for my education, though. Before I started on this journey, I was like many folks in the workforce. “Managing” my career was a bit of a mystery to me. Dealing with performance reviews or a trip to HR was about as fun as going to the dentist. I just kept my head down, did my job and prayed for the best.

I didn’t know much about negotiating. I made stupid, stupid mistakes. Because I didn’t push back on a start date on the job that I would eventually be laid off from, I had to walk away from a pension that was two weeks away from vesting. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

As a Gen X’er, I’m halfway between my father’s generation (punch-the-clock Joe) and the Gen Y’ers who are working in ROWE environments and taking afternoons to windsurf. I think of the guys in their 60s and 70s a lot these days; these guys worked their whole lives thinking that the company would be there for them. I have a relative who just lost his retiree benefits because the steel company he used to work for simply no longer exists. Similar situations are happening in dozens of GM towns across the country.

It’s hard to change old habits. But we need to learn to be ready for change and willing to embrace it in our careers.

There are billions of words of career advice floating around out there. Some of it is great, some of it is contradictory, and most of it is subjective. But I’m grateful to have learned those crucial basics:

Be flexible.

Be agile. Adapt to change (or die).

Ask questions. Push back.

Refuse abuse.

Define boundaries.

No more head down and praying for the best from this worker. I’ll work hard, but I have clear expectations of where I want to go, too.

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