In the last few years, I have seen several well-qualified senior folks leaving their rather stable careers (and not to mention their well-paid jobs) to pursue their inner calling at the end of (typically) a quarter-century of innings that often started with a bang, ran with illustrious career growth but ended on a whimper of long and lone bouts of boredom, lack of challenging assignments, dead-end role and stifling bureaucracy. These folks eventually outgrew their roles, and decided to step out of the daily rut of monotony
and endless boredom to explore a bold, new, uncertain world. These folks are brave – they decided to act while still having time on their side. However, these folks probably make up less then 5% of their peer group (purely self-made-up stats based on anecdotal data, but the reality could be starker). The rest 95% are still suffering daily in the purgatory, and offer themselves no real hope of ever leaving their make-believe world till one day when it would be too late to act anymore. This blog post is not about them – I really can’t offer them anything but tell them straight on their faces to just wake up and smell the coffee. This blog post is about those brave 5% who decide to take matters in their hands and leave the comforts of corporate job and social prestige to walk alone into an uncertain but perhaps more exciting future. I salute their fortitude. Unfortunately, in many of those cases, they are extremely ill-prepared for the uncertain future that lies ahead…the internet doesn’t know them!
I am typically seeing four major types or categories of career pivots, in that order of occurrence –
- consulting as a freelancer with other companies, or becoming executive or organizational transformation coach
- entrepreneur / social entrepreneur / author
- teaching at a college, and lastly
- moving to completely different profession (like taking up a grocery franchise or launching a men’s clothing line)
- well, I have seen one more category where people just left everything and literally sat at home – for years. There can’t be any more meaningless waste of human talent than simply whiling away the time, so I won’t even discuss it any further!
In many cases, it was a true calling and the individuals marched in knowing very well what lay ahead. However, in most cases, there were virtually ‘unknown’ outside their professional circles and had no clue if what they had to offer was in demand in the market. They didn’t know if people liked what they had to offer to them. Their problem – the internet doesn’t know them! No one knew their abilities, interest and work outside their immediate professional network. There was practically no record of their body of work on the internet in public domain. Would they be a good coach? Do they understand what is takes to lead without authority? How else would they bring about a change in my organization? Do I know what school of thought they come from? Are they ‘more of same’ guys or someone who have the knowledge and courage to bring about required change? The result is that while many folks start out with good intentions and become self-appointed coach or consultant, they haven’t quite ‘tested’ their core product – “themselves” – in the market, and have no real clue if the market needs them. In the end, they simply get relegated to play roles much lower than their potential and calibre and live yet another life of boredom and dissatisfaction. Why jump from one life of boredom to another life of boredom for no good reason? Why not do something about it while you are still actively engaged in your current assignment? After all, market value and marketability are two different things and one thing doesn’t mean the other.
When I speak at conferences and meet people, I still continue to be shocked at the pathetic low percentage of professionals who make any contribution at all to the community, online or offline – e.g., speaking at conferences, writing articles, volunteering for professional organizations, presenting papers, sharing their presentation decks, blogging, sharing comments on others blogs, tweeting or simply even retweeting! In short, they are neither known as thought leaders or being as a good assist, and hence fail to acquire any reasonable level of credibility for them to be seriously considered as an accomplished consultant or a qualified coach. In fact, it is not even about a career pivot. I am willing to lower my bar to anyone even looking for a job change – chances are 98% that when people put themselves up in the job market, the only piece of credibility they are pedaling is their four page resume and if you google their name, you get nothing. In this time and age, when I can simply look up someone’s credentials and endorsements on LinkedIn, when I find nothing on you, what do you want me to interpret? (Of course, I know all about how people often barter endorsements on LinkedIn, but like everything else in life, there are ways to separate wheat from chaff).
People ask why is that important? They equate any form of sharing of ideas or work as narcissistic self-promotion. If my work is good, people will find me. Surely that was the good old world value – let your work speak, and be modest about it. If you keep blowing your own trumpet, no one would take you seriously. However, they are missing a key point – as Steve Blank says it in the context of building products – “Build and they will come” is not a strategy, it’s a prayer. How is the world going to discover you? Your intentions might be good, and others might be even willing to accept your perspective, but how do they bet on taking you? There is a huge difference between agreeing with you in a social setting versus butting money on you and taking you onboard for a business-critical problem – don’t expect the former to have any rub-off on the latter.
After all, they haven’t seen you in flight.
What if you initially come across as the swashbuckling hero from the corporate role that you were wildly successful in, but end up being an ineffective change agent when stripped of all titles and positions? Maybe your success was the result of systems and people supporting you, and without them, you are nothing!
If you can’t inspire an audience with your ideas, how are you going to coach a team?
If you have no point of view, why should they even listen to you?
If you don’t have what is takes to communicate your point of view, no matter how good your ideas might be, how will the world know about them, given that ‘reading the mind’ skill hasn’t been perfected yet?
Are you too scared to test your credibility? When why should you expect others to do it for you?
Do you remember one of the most compelling marketing punchlines in 80s – “No one got fired for buying an IBM“. It was the epitome of brand credibility as we knew it back then. Could the people say the same about your personal brand?
The other day I met some wonderful people. One of them is a middle manager in a large MNC who is passionate about agile product development methods. He looks for every single opportunity to deliver talks at conferences – these are sources of his own learning. And often his company doesn’t support him – he has to put up internal ‘fight’ to get approvals for his talks, which he doesn’t always get – enough obstacles already. And if that is not already enough, he even funds out of town travels from his pocket. I met another very enterprising young professional. He was so proud of the fact that he has just seven years of experience but he has delivered twenty talks and presentations at various conferences during that time. His confidence oozes from his body language. I was amazed and inspired talking to these folks – may their tribe prosper. While I have seen delivering talks as a source of learning for me, these individuals are much ahead of me. At such early stage of their careers, they have figured out their passion and they are determined to do whatever it takes to pursue it. These folks will never have a credibility problem – the internet know them! Their talk material is on the net, people are tweeting about them, they are blogging their views – even if these are all half-baked and not fully supported by theory or practice, or even if they are not the perfect TED-speaker material. On the other hand, there are 98 other people for every two folks like these who are sitting quietly in the corner – sometimes basking in the past glory and living in a make-believe world, sometime just being cynical, shy or simply indifferent, and sometimes living in a fear of rejection or ridicule if they were to speak up their minds in front of others. Whom do you think you will want to hire?
So, here you are. One one hand you have all the tools (did I say “free”?) at your disposal to make sure the internet knows you. You don’t have to write an epic novel or deliver an acceptance speech, but like millions of other netizens, you can just send a tweet or write a comment on someone’s blog and take the first step towards building your own online credibility. And then someday, the internet will get to know you.
But for now…does the internet know you?