I have worked in many places. Big companies, small companies, some thriving and some failing. Start-ups, turnarounds and places on cruise control. Years ago I worked in a business where my predecessors had gone on to commit career suicide, their graves scattered across the corporate minefield that is technology. Driving a company and millions of dollars into the ground does have benefits, though: millions more investment dollars. Others walked the plank, a sword in their back, fell, and drowned. When you work around and enable Wall Street, you are another hole in the same pincushion. Good luck trying to be different. I have scars on my back from doing that, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are the tattoos I never got, but admired on others at the beach. My own tramp stamp.
We all have that “atta boy” or “atta girl” folder in our minds of past successes. I actually have a manila folder from back in the day with some career highlights in it. One is from my first real job in the early ’80s. There’s a deli napkin with the following words written on it: “Effective in September, your new base salary will be $32,000. Keep the fires burning.” This amounted to a $5,000 pay raise for me. While the inflation at the time was high, this was my biggest accomplishment in my young career. I also became an officer of the bank where I was working. Did I know what I was doing? No. I got by because I was enthusiastic and showed up each day. It is funny what can set you apart from the competition sometimes.
Enthusiasm alone isn’t enough to sustain a long career or to bring you to new heights of success, though. I would learn that over time. Define it however you want: money, titles, free time and giving back are all measures of being successful. Having an impact, a lasting one, is important to me. I want to leave some corporate graffiti behind that is my version of “Kilroy was here.” It will be for others to experience or have a laugh at. Either is fine with me.
So you build on your experiences over time, over decades. You become an encyclopedia of business knowledge. These are the situations you have worked in, handled, or failed at. If a typical career is thirty-five to fifty-five years, one day you will close the book.
And be forgotten?
That sucks. If that is how it is ends for you, I refuse. I am going out in a blaze of glory on the back of wherever I am employed. I had never planned on working forever, but over the past five-plus years I have determined that is what I want to do. I tried not working for a long period, and it was a waste of my time. I wish I could have the time back. It won’t return for me.
So I am thirty-plus years into a career. I have done the math, and figure I will live an average man’s lifetime. Thinking I have another twenty-five years or so to go, I imagine what I can do with the time I have left.
My best opportunity to date arrived when I was thirty-nine. I would imagine there is quite a lot left to do. Believe me, I still want to travel and relax. Seeing the pyramids is on my list. I don’t want to go now for fear of not returning for whatever I am going to do next. I believe they will still be there when I am ready.
I also know I will continue to add critical skills to my repertoire. I am not done learning. Believe in a lifetime of knowledge and experiences. Your final goodbye will be the last one, in my way of thinking.
I have passed through my career with strong relationships, a posse of men and women I have counted on over the years. They are at the core of my network. As I sit and ponder my next move to growing a business vs. turning one around from failure, I have some questions. How will my team change? Who are the new people who will teach me things I never knew? Who will be with me as we discover new experiences together? Will they pass them on to others following in our footsteps? Who will emerge as a beacon, a leader I will follow in my next chapter? That’s one of the true rewards of a body of work well done. Who you teach. What they learn. If they can change you from leader to follower. I am open to it. What will they pass on for the greater good, and will their followers have the guts to do the same?
Advancing life happens throughout a career. If you are performing meaningful work, that is where the reward comes from. The key is to be part of an organization that is more a movement than a business. Revenues and profits are important, and most important when they create an energy that feeds on itself for a reason other than numbers on a page. Want to make money? Be a trader; you create nothing formidable or real only money for yourself. Want to have an impact on society? Make something useful and teach others how to do it. The rewards? The impact you have on all who follow.
My best, Chris