Career Transitions

I had lunch yesterday with an industry colleague who was recently let go from his job with a big company.  He is now doing what everyone told him to do:  network, network, network – to find the next big thing.  Our lunch was of course part of that networking.  Who do I know?  Which companies might be hiring people with his skills?  His sense of urgency (despite the generous severance package) was palpable.

Initially, I answered his questions:  we brainstormed about this company or that company, and I offered to introduce him to some CEOs who may have interest in him.

But after the server brought our lunch, and the cadence of our conversation slowed a bit as we ate, I offered some unsolicited advice:

SLOW DOWN

I suggested that he take the advice expressed in this HBR article and multiply by 10.  Take a month and go away.  Really unplug.  Reconsider what “success” looks like.

He enthusiastically (almost) agreed, and reflected on a trip he’ll take soon to California in which he’ll interact with start-up companies and perhaps land a role with one of them.

I smiled.  “That sounds like networking to find a new job.”

“Got me.    It is.    Hmmmm”

This is normal, and common, and an unfortunate consequence of the hamster wheel many of us get trapped on.  As this post or this one .. remind us, we’ve been trained to define ourselves through the notion that we will BE happy after we HAVE ____ so we can DO ____.    The loss of a job gives us a great opportunity to question this flawed logic:  “When I HAVE (the perfect job, the promotion, the corner office ..) then I will DO (important work) and I will BE (perfectly happy). One can fill in the blanks and substitute anything else:  money, nice car, giant house, etc.  HAVING seems to come first.  But with loss, we can flip this all on its head if we give ourselves time to question.

What if we can BE (happy) first?  Will that change what we HAVE and DO?  Might it change how we approach our careers, our relationships, our aspirations?

Yup.

It’s (very) hard to make this shift.  Cognitively, it seems to make sense.  My lunch partner nodded and agreed that he needed to take time off to really let go.  But to him, “time off” was a weekend.  He’s lost the thing that has defined his identity:  the job, the work, the salary.

cd920aab13d3a784f33b2029eff9ae2aAnd it’s easy for me to sit across from him and tell him to re-think how he’s defined success.  He’s had a “successful” career, just like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and thousands of political appointees who used to work for the federal government.  Now they get to re-think how success is defined.  It’s an opportunity!