How to Stay in Play

Here’s what you’ll discover: You know you will eventually transition into the next phase of your career. Start taking these eight steps now so that your next best self will already be in motion — and in demand — by the time you’re ready to make the big jump.

Yesterday I found some coffee in the cupboard. Normally that’s not news, but yesterday it was very good news indeed.  You see, I thought I was all out and that I’d have to resort to tea. It was a dreary, chilly, rainy morning in the Rocky Mountain high desert foothills outside of Santa Fe. And I simply didn’t want to leave the house to replenish. Plus, when you live outside of town on a former horse ranch, like I do, a coffee run isn’t just a matter of hopping down to the local Piggly Wiggly. Plus, I’m partial to Peets. Which is actually beside the point.

The point here is that I had coffee yesterday because Last Year Martha absent-mindedly left it behind when I packed up the house to spend the shank of 2016 writing in a sweet 1940s bungalow just outside of Palm Beach. Is forgetting a $13 bag of premium, custom-roasted French Roast anything to brag about?  Nope. But it sure is something to be grateful for 18 months later. I actually said, “Thanks! Last Year Martha!” aloud, with only my blind cat and boon traveling companion PD to hear me.

(Yes, I know. It’s a year old. But it’s good coffee, sealed in its original bag, and then inside a zip-loc. Shackleton had it much worse.)

I get it. It’s not very interesting. Until I invite you to consider this question:  What can you do today that next year’s you will be so grateful for? My clientele are mostly five to ten years (give/take) away from a planned retirement and they want to get that momentum ball of sustained relevance rolling now. That way they won’t be caught flat-footed later. So this article is primarily for them. But if you don’t fall in that category, that’s okay! You can come too, and you won’t be caught flat-footed later either

If you’re anticipating a career shift – either any day now or in the middle future – take steps now that you will thank yourself for later. As we move into the senior years of our already established professional careers, it’s hard to believe that relevance and staying in demand might one day be an issue. We’re at our highest-earning phase (presumably). People are still fervently hoping we’ll return their calls and emails within 24 hours. We’re invited to critical meetings as key participants, and our opinions actually count for something.

It’s shocking how quickly all that can change. Take the attitude now that you must prepare for a future that is largely unforeseeable. You’ll thank yourself later. Or rather you’ll thank Today You while you’re sitting pretty performing at your highest potential as Tomorrow You.

Here’s what you do to stay in play:

Be nice to recruiters when they call.

For the life of me, I don’t know why people are rude to recruiters to begin with. I suppose you never know what you’re going to get when the phone rings (there doesn’t seem to be any quality control in recruiter land). But still. The initiating opportunity might be crap. But an open, cordial conversation with these folks could land you a sweet gig later.

Resolve to acquire two new skills a year – one technical, one to beef up your area expertise.

Choose skills that contribute to your empowerment and freedom. I’m always beefing up my area expertise (nothing better than a new book on my Kindle). But for me, the technical skill requires focused intent. This summer I learned WordPress. (I had learned it years before, but man it’s easy to forget; and things change.) Two reasons:  I was tired of being stuck with my own website that I had long outgrown. But mainly, I was also alarmed at how easily so-called high-end web designers could rip off my clients by selling them what they don’t need, and then charging extra for the basics that they do need and deserve. I needed the knowledge necessary to protect my clients who don’t buy web design services on a regular basis.

Take on skills that serve your clients’ needs (even if those clients are your current employers), and you’ll always be in play.

Make sure your employers know that you have new certifications and skills.

If you’re just updating your LinkedIn profile, you’re doing yourself and your employer a disservice. In my new book HR Directions, Sanjay Sathe (founder and CEO of RiseSmart, now owned by Randstad) warns employers how easy it is to lose their valuable talent by not keeping up with their employees’ professional development: “Who knows more about your most essential talent and their capabilities than you do? The most likely answer would be: LinkedIn.”  If employers are woefully behind in keeping up with all the added value that you can bring them, you have no one  but yourself to blame. You lose a valuable opportunity inside because your employers believe you’re the exact same person you were when they hired you. And now the employers believe that it’s essential to go outside to seek that skill you’ve acquired since.  Speak up!

Make yourself essential to your employers until the very last day you walk out their door, with that box of desk stuff in your arms.

If you can acquire only one new skill for the rest of your life, let it be in sales and marketing. 

“Ugh. I hate selling.”  Yeah, I know.  But I have to say that one of the best things I ever did for myself and my career was to ignore my personal biases against network marketing (honestly acquired while observing ridiculous behavior in the 1970s). Just a couple of years ago, I joined a modern MLM company (DoTERRA, if you want to know). The modern community of sales and marketing professionals will teach you resilience, persistence, empathy, creative problem-solving, authentic relationship building, great listening skills, positivity, leadership, a service philosophy, patience, positive self-talk, biz dev strategy. And probably other stuff that’s not coming to mind right now. Being with a crowd of positive, empowered professionals who achieve success only when they’re helping other people realize their dreams, well that’s just good for your mental health.

Circulate.

This is a hard one for me, because I’m most content in my little desert cottage with my cat and my year-old coffee. But.  Conferences, meetings, professional associations. Every time I dig my shoes out from under my bed and go to an event, I come back with new relationships and new opportunities to help new clients. People have to know your face. You already know that.

Clear the clutter. 

If you’re within sight of starting your second act career, that means you’re at the end of your first one.  And that means that you’re hauling a comet’s tail of accumulated debris with you. And it’s getting in your way. Maybe you have old, debilitating self-talk patterns or unconscious beliefs about the world and its people that you’ve inherited from your parents. Or you have relationships with people that you’ve long outgrown, however those people are forever reminding you that they knew you when – therefore they know the “real you.” Or you have changed your ideas around what your ideal client looks like, and you just need some time to sit down and think it through in specific terms. Or the people in your LinkedIn and Facebook circles don’t represent your best self, and will stand in your way. Or maybe simply your long-established website has become the content equivalent of your kitchen junk drawer. Out of date blog posts. Old resume. Fuzzy value proposition. And you really just need to clear it out.

In her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises us to get rid of everything that doesn’t “spark joy” in our hearts. It’s true for that pile of lidless Tupperware that somehow found its way in a lower cabinet. It’s true of professional and life clutter that stand in the path between your best self up until now and the best self you are preparing to be in a few years.

Do what you love. 

No, the money may not follow but you’re not going to lose sight of being happy and healthy. Happy and healthy makes you irresistibly attractive. And keeps you fluent in the knowledge of hope and possibilities. No one wants a sad sack.  And I wonder if one of the reasons why some older job candidates have trouble landing their next gig is because there’s just a tinge of blue sadness in their voices and demeanor. Let’s face it. If you have any bit of sensitivity at all, you’ve been beaten up once or twice in your career. And it’s hard to not carry that around with you. Counteract it with a regular surge of endorphins that come from the joy of living life large.  (In a future blog post I’ll tell you the story of the unemployed CFO who met his future employer after having just come out of the San Diego surf in his Speedo. With blood and snot running down his face. And that “man! That was fun!” gleam in his eye.)

Never lose sight of the value you bring to your world. 

If you’re in a transition period now, or you expect to be in that no man’s land very soon, your confidence is due for a good rattling. You’re in motion, which is a good thing. But it’s also an unstable thing. You may not be too sure about who you’re going to be once the new evolution is complete. And your new prospects and colleagues might not be too sure either. You are going to feel funky at times. And you’ll find yourself wondering if the future belongs to the true narcissists and people who can fake confidence real good. Suddenly they’re everywhere, getting in your face, while you’re feeling small and uncertain. It’s only a temporary condition. But it won’t be fun while it lasts.

I go through those phases on a regular basis. But the one that will stay with me forever happened back in 1998, right after the publication of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life. Suddenly I was a published author and the publisher – Simon & Schuster – was a big deal outfit. And yet I was feeling small and sad, housesitting for a newly widowed friend of mine on Cape Cod.

Another friend of mine, Patricia Varley, came up to visit for a few days. And we sat in the sunroom overlooking the bunnies and hydrangea of Chatham, when I squeaked out my pitiful, needy squeak.

“It’s not what you need,” she said. “It’s what you can contribute.”  Well. That kind of changes everything, doesn’t it?

So Today Martha, with Last Year Coffee in hand, thinks back on that afternoon 20 years ago. All those ensuing book projects since, all those transformations between then and now. And I’m not done yet.

Neither are you. Take action now to set yourself up for the best possible version of your future self. The future will be here before you know it. And it will thank you.

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