In part one of this two-part series, I described five lessons my Boomer friends and I learned the hard way so that we can pass them on to you, Gen Xers, so that you don’t have to learn by trial and error. Here are the next five lessons:
6. Recognize that there is no safety in your career, nor job security.
When Boomers started their careers, we were taught to believe that we could climb the ladder to professional success, one rung at a time. As a result, many Boomers became extremely dedicated professionally, learning to invest countless hours into their work with the expectation of career advancement only to learn through the heartbreak of “The Great Recession” and now, during the era of the pandemic, that job security is a myth and that companies will ultimately look out for their own interests and not those of their employees.
Playing it safe when managing their careers resulted in becoming risk-averse professionally, taking few workplace risks and generally believing that homogenous work and behavior were the right way to conduct yourself. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In my experience, the workplace of Lean, Six Sigma, transformation and other methodologies of industrial operation brought to corporations created a repeatable process and disposable employees.
7. Don’t forget to stretch yourself.
I’m someone who has spent a lot of time in the pursuit of perfection. It takes constant effort to remind myself that perfection is impossible; excellence is possible. As Grammarly just reminded me, “To err is human. To edit is divine.”
That may be tongue-in-cheek software but it‘s true: everyone makes mistakes. Not making mistakes means you‘re not pushing the envelope to new possibilities. You always need to be pushing the envelope. Every time the envelope is pushed, we stretch ourselves and learn more about ourselves and our abilities than if we stay within rigid limits.
As in yoga, small stretches over time can help increase your flexibility a lot. Learn to stretch and concentrate on the stretch while doing it.
8. Know that you won’t be doing the same work 10 years from now, let alone do it in the same way.
Looking back 10 years ago, smartphones were just starting to become integral to our work. Ten years from now, you will be working in different ways than you are today — that’s just a fact of life — but we act as though there’s a finite amount of evolution that occurs even though change is seemingly infinite.
For the most part, Boomers have inherently been skeptics of anything new, instead preferring standardization. You, Gen X, still have time to be thinking ahead and be on the cutting edge of trends. Your Millennial and Gen Z employees can teach you a lot about trends if you take the time to stay connected with them and not just talk to your generational peers.
Most of you have at least another 10 years in the workforce. You don’t want to wind up like the Boomers kicking and screaming as they are pushed out the door. One of the ways to avoid that is by being slightly ahead of every curve, keeping yourself trained, experienced and fluent with new trends and capabilities in your field. That is something few Boomers did as they aged.
9. Don’t allow yourself to become “invisible.”
It seems funny but becoming indispensable in a role can result in someone being taken for granted. There are many ways to promote yourself professionally within an organization and outside of it. You can write from LinkedIn, Medium and countless other platforms. You can be interviewed for podcasts or someone’s YouTube channel. You can become active in a professional association or group.
Being a member is like being a lurker — you are watching and not participating. Too many older workers take the easy approach and never develop their “celebrity status.” They never reveal their thoughts and ideas outside of a small circle of individuals. They hide. They hide because they are afraid that they have nothing to say when, in fact, they know much more than they think they do.
Sound familiar? Now is the time to challenge yourself, step up and be seen for who you really are, because the more invisible you allow yourself to be, the more you are perceived as a cog. Cogs turn to rust. Cogs are replaced. Many Boomers allowed themselves to become cogs. Don’t make the same mistake.
10. Don’t get comfortable with never meeting new people and never learning anything new.
There is a famous book titled, Eat, Pray, Love. Most of you could probably write the book, Commute, Work, Eat. In pandemic times, it might be called Work, Work, Eat. In other words, every day is repetitive. No one new enters your life because you never put yourself in the position of meeting anyone new to have a conversation with.
New people and new circumstances are part of your growth and evolution. Especially as you look ahead where the nature of work will continue to evolve, the importance of your professional and personal relationships will dictate the ease with which you age in the workplace and whether you have quality work in the workplace or outside of it if you choose. There are ways to place yourself in new situations where you can learn and meet others. Don’t waste time. Start experimenting and see what works for you.
As evidenced here, Boomers often made mistakes when managing their careers. There is no reason for you to duplicate those mistakes.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020, 2021
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.
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