After graduating from college, I was like most bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduates with a sheepskin in hand. I thought employers would beat a path to my door.
They didn’t. After dozens of dead-end interviews, I ended up taking a minimum wage at a large wholesaler in South Seattle, largely because I had a new mouth in the family to feed.
I didn’t really mind taking the first job that came along. I figured it was just a brief stop along the way to fame and fortune. Besides, the company was large enough that advancement opportunities seemed endless. They even had their own in-house ad agency, and I was a writer. Now there’s a match made in heaven.
Just one problem. I didn’t take myself seriously back then, and neither did anyone else. I was the funny guy from the mailroom who dressed up every Halloween, even though the company didn’t have a party or costume contest.
Long story short, I finally did get my big break in the advertising department. It only took six tries and five long years. Soon after hiring me, my boss asked, “Where have you been all this time?” “Bringing you the mail,” I replied. I guess she didn’t remember that pirate who delivered her mail two months earlier.
I recently learned that the average worker has 13 different jobs over their lifetime, five on average between the ages of 18 and 24, and multiple careers.
I tend to think I’ve only had one job and one career, my stint as CEO of Me, Inc.
Me, Inc. is based on the principle of comparative value. I am valued in the marketplace because I have a unique skill set that no one else has. It is a combination of everything I have learned, done, tried and mastered. I am my own company, hence Me, Inc.
We all are our own company when you think about it. Whether we work for one company for 20 years or 20 companies a year at a time, we bring our value to that role and take it with us to the next. We are all independent contractors, lending our skills, talents and abilities to a business for a set time and then moving on to the next assignment.
I used to teach this mindset to entrepreneurs many years ago. But it is just as valid for any businessperson or worker these days. The success of your career depends entirely on you. You are your own company. You get paid for your knowledge and experience. And when it is no longer valued, you move on to the next opportunity.
Sometimes, however, we stay too long. We become overly comfortable and risk-averse. As such, we stagnate, languishing in a role that once challenged us. We forget that Me, Inc. is all about portability and continual growth to maximize your comparative value in the world.
This certainly happened to me several years ago. I had started my own business after being laid off. I decided that I could run my own creative agency, something I did for two decades. The last five of those were spent beachside in Florida, working for clients all over the world.
It sounds like the dream assignment, right? But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for what I was doing. I was stuck in a working-world version of Groundhogs Day. I’d wake up, make some coffee, check my email, write a few assignments and wait for the money to arrive in my bank account.
It wasn’t until I ended up working for the Department of Commerce that I realized that I had just been going through the motions for the last five years.
It wasn’t all for naught. Even though I had lost my passion for what I was doing, I hadn’t forgotten to feed my Me, Inc. need. I had continued to learn a ton of new skills, including consulting with small businesses and startups around the globe. It was just what I needed to take on the job with the state. I not only handled marketing Washington as a place to do business but created new programs for entrepreneurs and startups. Talk about a dream job!
This brings me around to the topic at hand. Never before in the history of our economy have workers enjoyed so many possibilities. There are tens of thousands of job openings, and with them, the chance to find a job and even a career that floats your boat personally and professionally. This includes the opportunity to start your own business. The reset of the economy has opened all sorts of new doors for the budding entrepreneur, and there’s no time like the present to seize the opportunity to find a new position that reflects your passions and makes the best use of your comparative value in the marketplace.
As you move to the next phase of your own career, whether it’s heading back to a mega-office or starting the business you’ve always dreamed of, here are some lessons that I learned along the way that might prove helpful.
- Always think about how you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace. This goes for you as a worker, as an independent contractor, entrepreneur or small business owner. This is the secret sauce that makes you unique and valuable.
- You will always have coworkers, bosses and clients that make life unpleasant. Before you burn a bridge, remember that they may become your biggest fan down the road and connect you to opportunities you never dreamed possible.
- If something doesn’t give you joy, find something that does. This includes you as a business owner. If you’re just going through the motions every day, find something that excites you. Rediscover that inner entrepreneur in you, the one that caused you to strike out on your own in the first place.
- Seek out every learning opportunity you can. Attend workshops, build new skills, take on new responsibilities, volunteer to learn new functions, software or roles, and continue to build your portfolio of successful projects, activities and examples. The broader, the better since it gives you more options down the road.
- Watch what you say on social media. We’ve all seen how this comes back to haunt you, even if it was years ago, long before you went to work with your current employer or started your new business. These days, what you said years ago stays with you for a lifetime.
- Don’t hesitate to share your expertise with others. As you build new skills, share others with those who are just beginning their journey. Mentorship is a great way to unearth new talent and build lifelong personal and professional relationships.
- If you hate what you’re doing, stop complaining about it and find something new that jazzes you. As I said, there’s never been a better time to change jobs or careers or start a new business.
- Finally, take the time to assess where you are in terms of your career. As you end your workday, consider what you did to advance your career aspirations or your role? What did you do to make Me, Inc. an irresistible force in the marketplace?
This global reset offers unlimited potential. Take advantage of it. Find the work you love and love the work you do. If we’ve learned nothing else from the last 18 months, it’s that life is darned short. Don’t waste a second of it.
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, so lucky that I still get paid to make stuff up,