What does fight for your career mean to you?
Many years ago I had surrendered my career to others. And then the unthinkable-to-me happened, to me: I got laid off.
I wasn’t just laid off with a bunch of others. I wasn’t laid off when the economy plummetted. I was laid off under circumstances that I kind of didn’t see coming (although, really, I did see them coming – the proverbial writing was certainly on the proverbial wall).
Whether I saw it or not, I was ill-prepared. I was surprised because, well, that kind of thing happened to others.
I had given my all, I thought, to my role and my company. I had sacrificed personal/family stuff and thought for sure all I’d done for the company would be seen, respected, and valued to the point where it would help protect my future with the company.
BOY, WAS I WRONG.
When the going gets tough “it’s not personal, it’s just a business decision.”
When the going gets tough blood is thicker than water (I was reminded of this when my boss moved some of my important, and fun, work to his untrained son who promptly screwed things up).
When there are problems in an organization, sharks (opportunists) come out of the shadows ready to pounce and feed.
I don’t know if sharks “pounce” but you get my point.
So there I was, on a conference call (because working for the two executives who were involved in laying me off, who I *thought* I had a great relationship with, couldn’t fit it in their schedule to either come to me or have me come to them, and do this in person), with the guy who would take over my role sitting next to me, smiling smugly like a kid on Christmas morning who was sure he was going to get everything on his Christmas list…
“We’re going to have to let you go…”
It became final. All of the writing on the wall, which was speculation up to that point, became real. Going from “is this going to happen?” to “you are out of a job” was a smack in the face.
But, I tried to be stoic, so as not to let the guy sitting by me get too much pleasure out of my misfortune.
I remember driving home that day. It was about a 15 mile drive. When I got off the highway, for the last time as an employee of that company I tried so hard to save (I was the general manager and had a gargantuan task ahead of me), I felt everything:
I felt angry, elated, burdened and fearful, and free. I felt sad for my team and my perceived failures and hopeful for my next role. I had a flood of emotions hit, and they were as negative as they were positive.
But mostly I felt free.
I was free of the politics. I was free from fighting for stupid things when I should have had time to do my job. Instead, I was made to prepare for weekly board meetings, taking precious time away from actually righting the company.
Over the next few months I realized I had done a great disservice to my career, my family, and myself.
While I was focusing on healing and growing the company I was tasked to heal and grow, I neglected my own career. I fought for my company and my products. I fought for my team and our customers. But I never fought for myself.
I believed that if I fought for those things I’d be taken care of by the powers that be.
I believed that fighting for them would make my career stronger, and position me for greater things.
But I was let go in the middle of it all. I didn’t have much to brag about, at least in the way of results.
A couple of years later I was on a Southwest flight and who would sit next to me but the next president of the parent company that let me go. He and I had a good relationship for years and I was an important part of his operation (being the IT manager). He asked, “Why did you quit?”
Um. UM. Wow. So that is how the story went. Instead of telling any kind of truth, people at my last company were lied to and told I quit, and then just vanished?
I was disgusted.
But honestly, as hard as it was then, it was perhaps the greatest thing to happen in my career. The whole experience led me to launching JibberJobber, which opened many doors. I became an author of multiple books, a professional (read: paid) speaker, a sought-after webinar deliverer, a paid writer, and within 6 years I finally started doing courses at this up-and-coming company called Pluralsight (where I now have 37 courses).
It was a long road to get to a point where I wasn’t worried about money. It was a long road to get over losing almost everything (I didn’t lose my integrity, my sanity, or my wife and family).
What did I lose, you ask?
I lost my salary, which was my ability to pay my bills and be self-sufficient. This made me question my role in my family because I had once been a breadwinner and now, all of the sudden, I was not.
I lost my identity, which was too tied up in being “general manager” of such-and-such software company (which sounded really cool).
I lost my health insurance, even though it was about as sucky as you could find on the market.
I lost my work friends, who I spent a lot of time with (not after hours, but many hours at work).
I lost my direction, and more.
There are over 120,000 tech workers who have lost much of this this year alone, in 2022. It is jarring. It can be scary. It can be unsettling to the point of hopeless despair.
All of this because while I was fighting for a bunch of things I listed above, I never fought for my career.
What does that mean? Honestly, I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve come to learn what fighting for my career would mean. I made a presentation out of it and delivered it hundreds of times, and made it a Pluralsight course (Career Management 2.0). For years, the two most important parts of career management were networking and personal branding. I’m so passionate about personal branding, because I think it’s such a critical part of your career and your future (especially for all the times you will get laid off), that I created a course: Developing Your Personal Brand.
Since then I’ve learned, and have included in my presentations, that multiple income streams are a critical part of your career management. I know not everyone has the resources (time, money, creativity, opportunities, etc.) to pursue other income streams. I know some are small and look like a waste of time. When I started JibberJobber my goal was to make a hundred bucks a month…. that’s all, just a $100.
A final element of career management that I’m noodling on comes from my 10+ years creating courses for Pluralsight. I should say, creating courses that thousands of people have watched… people who are much more accomplished and skilled than I’ll ever be. People who make more, and influence more than I can imagine. These people come to my courses because they know the value of, as Pluralsight says, skilling up. Learning. This is one of the most important skills we can develop, especially if we are in any industry or field that changes.
How to Fight for Your Career
Back to the question: how do you fight for your career? What does that mean?
You fight for your career when you network. This doesn’t have to be a numbers game, nor does it have to be uncomfortable. Read some networking books to change your perspective on what networking is. I’ll always recommend Never Eat Alone and anything by Harvey Mackay. But more than reading, go practice. Have a lunch with someone. Do a one-on-one zoom. Give, serve, reach out, follow up. FOLLOW UP. And FOLLOW UP more.
Don’t let a one-off meeting remain a one-off meeting. Nurture relationships over time.
You fight for your career when you strategically and intentionally define and influence your personal brand. Watch my course on this… I have a lot if information I’ve collected over the years on what it is and how to do it. You already have a personal brand but it could be everything you don’t want it to be. I want you to be intentional about this.
You fight for your career when you try to build income streams outside of your job. Of course, your job might be your main income stream… nothing wrong with that. I’m not a job hater. I just love the stability you get from having diverse income streams. I love the idea of getting laid off of a job, where you make good money, but you could still support yourself because of the other income streams you’ve built. This can take years… mine took over 10 years. But it was all worth it.
You fight for your career when learn to learn, and learn to love to learn. When you learn how to adapt and change and improve yourself. When you increase your value to your employer and clients and team… you do this as you learn hard skills and soft skills. You do this as you read more, practice, experiment, watch courses, learn from others, and fail. Yes, as you fail you should learn, and then try again and again and make progress.
I’m just as passionate about the fight for your career as I am about the fight for my career. I’m passionate about how empowered we can become as we do these things.
Will they protect us from a layoff? Nope. Didn’t protect me. But they can help you as you look for your next job, or income stream, and figure out how you’ll survive and even thrive.
This is what the fight for your career means to me. This is what I’ve been blogging about, and creating courses about, and speaking about, since 2006.