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1. The Other Side (Part 2)

Are you prepared to leave or lose your job (or to leap up or off the ladder)?

I am in the process of “consciously uncoupling” from my job of 9 years, and a career of almost two decades in BigCo management consulting. The reason why, the process to get to this point and what next will be covered in subsequent posts.

For now, let me say that my immediate goal in the next few months is to share the principles of The Good Life in an earnest attempt to make the world a slightly better place. The Good Life is a philosophy and practice of living I’ve developed and used to realign my life to be more balanced, happy and meaningful. The journey is only part way through but I’m excited to share what I’ve found in the hope that it can help you too.

So back to the question at hand: Are you prepared to leave or lose your job?

A lot of us want to leave our jobs but we are not prepared to.

Many of us will lose our jobs and we are not prepared to.

Preparing is about being ready to deal with an event as well as being willing to do something. It’s a truism but many of us spend all of our time working in our careers, not working on them…until it is too late.

Ironically the way to get prepared for these eventualities is largely the same as if your desire is to get promoted, to make more money, and get more meaning from your current situation (i.e. leap up or off the ladder). Preparing is both offensive and defensive.

Now I face my own transition, not theoretical – real life. You can probably work out by my career tenure that I’m in my early 40’s. I am married with one beautiful child and another on the way. I have a mortgage and bills to pay, and so on. I feel as prepared as I can be, and have been ready for this moment for a little while now.

In terms of preparing in the event you lose your job, you can work on your career by:

  1. Maintaining a quality profile on social networking sites like LinkedIn, and ensuring that you invest at least part of your time in networking including conferences, events, online discussions etc (sometimes non-sales people forget or don't prioritise this)
  2. Living within your means - including deferring large expenditures and having enough liquid assets set aside for you to be able to survive for 6-12 months (be hard on the second point, to help you with the first)
  3. Researching your field as if you were just joining it – who are the upcoming players in your field, what are the macro trends? Is your field growing or contracting? What key networking events can or should you attend? What skill profile is required for leaders in your field, now and in the future?
  4. Getting some honest 360-degree feedback on how you are performing (personally and professionally). Ask what it will take to move to the next level: skills and behaviours. Understand how you create value (or could create value in the future). Identify your blindspots
  5. Answering the following questions: do you have the aptitude, attitude and appetite to continue in your job for the next 5-10 years? If the answer to any of these is “no” then understand why

I did each of the steps above. Here is what I found:

  1. LinkedIn. By looking at other profiles and experimenting with my own I found got into a situation that head-hunters called me on a fairly regular basis with relevant job opportunities. Had I wanted to go further I could have met some firms and built a relationship to keep warm, or for them to keep me posted if something else came up. My profile is not perfect and there are plenty of free resources online to help you do better. The nice thing about online communities and resources is that you can participate from your desk, and it doesn't just have to be your field, it could be other communities that you are interested in i.e. other careers or functions, creativity etc.
  2. Spend. I analysed my spend and found that much of it (e.g. expensive holidays, dinners etc) was to make me feel better about the toll work was taking on rest of my life. I took up three hobbies: cycling, learning guitar and writing… all that were cheap and immensely more satisfying. Thinking about money from the perspective of “if you lost your job” or "doing something I love that has less predictable income" are critical ways to connect again with the value of money. Can you delay moving to a new house / doing renovations, buying a new car until you have a clearer blueprint for your life? Yes.
  3. Research. It was clear (to me anyway) that many aspects of the field of consulting were being commoditised and automated.  For big consultancies there was a risk of trying to be “everything to everyone” and becoming too process and metrics driven (and forgetting about relationships and creativity). If I moved consulting from being my identity, to being a tool that I could use, how would that objectivity allow me to reimagine the way consulting could be done? I could provide more implementable, personal, targeted and exciting insights to clients, and improve the experience of consulting and of change. Secondly, what other value could I create and capture around the experience of professional work that would allow me to have a happy, balanced and meaningful life, and help others too? These are great questions to answer by the way.
  4. Feedback. My clients loved working with me and I did quality work. My bosses, not surprisingly, wanted more of everything from me. Some seemed puzzled that I'd stopped responding to emails at weekends and after 8pm
  5. 3A’s. I had aptitude – skills in demand and ability to get work done. My attitude to client work was also great, but less so for taking on more “development opportunities” after hours. I realised that my appetite was waning (although my actual waistline was expanding). In an “up or out field” I wasn’t visibly trying to go up.

The value of executing these simple steps goes way beyond the price of admission. It is almost impossible to anticipate fully the benefits of things we know we should do but don't. If you "get" these steps but don't do them then you become stuck in the same situation - I learned this first hand.

The reason is quite simply that we must open up some new avenues to get to a better situation, and those avenues start as small side-streets that you walk past every day. To complete these steps fully you must, in practice, start to answer the questions of "who am I?", "what do I want?" and eventually "how do I get to what I want from where I am now?".

For me it became clear that it was impossible to satisfactorily answer "the work question" without thinking about what I wanted across my whole life, and then fitting work into this. I wanted to live a more healthy lifestyle, improve the connection to my family, be more grounded and living on-purpose and I wanted to use my full set of talents and interests to make the world a better place, by helping others to find happiness, balance, meaning in their lives.

I’ve developed a personal methodology of how to work through that and will share elements of it in future blog posts, and hopefully document it all in an upcoming book. The other side feels good, but the work has only just begun.

If you like you can get a taster of this from a LinkedIn article I posted last year about The Good Life.

What this adds up to in terms of the questions that opened this post is that to be prepared you have to find a plausible alternative to your current situation. This could be a different role, job or business or changes outside of work that enable you to have the required attitude and appetite in what you chose to do for work / vocation. This is the topic of my next blog post "Where's the money (and the meaning)?".

So whether you’re preparing in case you lose your job, or for when you need to leave, or how to leap up or off the ladder the steps outlined above can help. It is only when you start to implement these keystone simple steps, acting and interacting with others, that further actions, gaps and opportunities become apparent and you get momentum. Start now, since you'll need time to act on what you find, before work or another part of life becomes in crisis for one reason or another.

Since this is the first post on my site please check back regularly to see updates in coming weeks as well as the opportunity to join the mailing list for additional select content.

You can also click the buttons at the top of the site to link to my LinkedIn and pages (including Part 1 of this article - a lake-cycling meditation on the relationship that is work).

When you get to the other side perhaps you'll feel like me - that work is planet revolving around you again, rather than the other way around.

Have a good one!