Careers are not linear tracks that we can plan to retirement. They often start to take on a life of their own against our best laid plans. How do we keep on track?
I am fifty this year, and I wear my age and my battle scars of life proudly. Life dealt me many twists and turns that sometimes took me by surprise. Despite faltering and falling now and then, I came out tougher and wiser.
When I was in my twenties, I was assertive and ambitious, and wanted to climb the corporate ladder as fast as I could. In every job I landed, I took pride in contributing above and beyond the job requirements, and usually managed to exceed every expectation of my bosses.
But there will always be a few jobs that draw tears from us, and may even take us to our knees. For many of you, I pray such a scenario will not happen to you.
There will sometimes be those jobs that you put in 110% effort, and may not even hope for a 70% return. But those jobs that break us usually have nothing to do with the workload, the pressure, the remuneration, or even the physical environment. It was usually due to people, and specifically, usually just one single person who became the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. And for many of us of gentler spines, we would choose not to fight tooth and nail when peace is our paramount concern.
There were specifically 3 curveballs in my career that spanned nearly three decades, two of which occurred in my twenties, which helped me determine what I was going to do for the rest of my life, and one when I hit forty, which slowed my second business to a crawl.
My first two curveballs were not back-breakers, and I bounced back quickly and went on to a marketing management career in a fast-growing local computing business. That was my big break before I founded my own consulting business. I consider it a curveball because I had the mind of a ronin (a master-less Samurai) all along, and committed to quickly finishing big projects in my jobs and then moved on to the next. To employers, I would seem like a job hopper even though my contributions would be significant.
One day, one of my mentors, a Chinese American banker, sat down with me over lunch at a local eatery. He told me to hang on to my marketing management job for at least two years, to break the spell of appearing as a job hopper. I took his advice and stuck at that job for two years, and managed to launch many successful and groundbreaking marketing campaigns for helped that company reached parity with the then top brands in that category. I was very appreciative of my mentor’s advice.
The next curveball was when I hit forty, when out of public spiritedness I was persecuted and ostracized by a few persons. Although I was eventually vindicated and my honor restored, the damage to my news bureau business was devastating, and I was too exhausted after the whole episode for a period of time. But, surprisingly, that curveball became a defining moment for my next lap in life.
During that period of quietude and reflection with hardly any business on my hands, two European gentlemen found me.
One was a German abbot of a monastery, and another a French pastor. The German abbot asked me to help him as an assistant, and I managed to help him deploy websites, worked with musicians to get a fundraising album done, and assisted him in service to the underprivileged to some parts of Africa. The French pastor asked me to help him with ministry projects, and his projects included rendering aid to some central American locations. These I did gladly pro-bono. A sad thing is that the German abbot reposed. May his memory be eternal. The French pastor remained a dear mentor and friend, someone I am grateful appeared to me at one of my lowest points.
From then on, I found my second wave of inspiration and energy, and eventually, I carried on to study and to vocation, as well as rebuild my stalled speaking and consulting career.
My journey is not complete, and judging from the longevity of my family, I might have a good many decades left, God willing. There may be more curveballs, that I pray I will handle with grace, humility, and positivity.
What are some suggestions to braving through career curveballs? I call it “P.O.I.S.E.”
1. Prepared. There is no such thing as a perfect career that can take us from starting point to retirement today. The market and the economy have become fluid and transient, and we should be prepared for the worst every day. The pay cheque today may be our last, and are we prepared when such a thing happens?
2. Open. Be open and honest with ourselves. Career curveballs are unpleasant and there is no solution to be found by sweeping the curveballs under the carpet. We need to confront the issues promptly and decide what our next moves are. A job may mean a great deal to us, but it is not what defines us. We are much more than that, and we can rise out of a failed job.
3. Inspiration. Find new inspiration and motivation to kickstart our stalled or failed jobs. When we are let go, or when we quit from jobs unceremoniously, we need to find something that can spur us on with positive thinking and gladness. It may not always be easy, but there are many who have done great things despite great odds, whether it be physical, mental or environmental challenges. We are made of tougher substance than we think. We just need to draw on something that would expand our minds and hearts, promptly.
4. Sensibility. A career curveball may not mean the end of the world, but we have to be realistic about what to expect next. If we are let go from an executive position commanding a good remuneration and perks, we may need to adjust our expectations as we transition to our next job. We may need to start small, start lower, work a lot harder, and do more tasks that others do not like, and so on. Let us prove ourselves with our maturity and humility that we can surmount great challenges, however they seem.
5. Energy. The older we get, the more the world demands of us to move fast, think fast, act fast, because we would have accumulated experience. Career curveballs may sap us quickly, and sometimes depress us into dark corners. We need to summon our energies to re-ignite our inner flames of wonder and enthusiasm. Let us show that we bring to the table not mere experience, but the energy from hard-earned wisdom.
Careers can never truly be linear for many of us, despite our best intentions and our best laid plans. There will always be career curveballs in our paths, and we are to keep mentally and physically fit to keep journeying on with gusto, with spirit, with optimism, and with kindness. Whatever our individual beliefs may be, keeping a positive mind on all things will always help us keep our lives balanced and contented, and will light our paths forward with recovery and growth.
Seamus Phan has 33 years of professional experience. Polymath Problem-Solver & Strategist – Leadership, Cybersecurity, Branding, Crisis, Scientist, Artist, Author, Aviation, and Theologian. Some articles are reproduced at McGallen & Bolden, where he is CTO and Head of Content. Connect on LinkedIn. ©1984-2020. All rights reserved.