Are You Headed For a Wile E. Coyote Moment?
Yesterday, while having dinner with friends, we spotted a roadrunner making its way through the yard. Yes, they really do exist and it’s one of many pleasant surprises living in the desert. I always wondered what made Wile E Coyote double down in his endless pursuit of the Road Runner. Time and again, he would chase full bore after that elusive red headed bird, finding himself suddenly disappointed and in disbelief suspended mid-air before plunging into a canyon with a giant slab of rock falling on him, flattening him into the hard ground below, while that cagey little Road Runner stood by with its sassy “Beep Beep.” I wondered why he didn’t learn to watch for the signs of the fall that was inevitably coming and take an alternate course.
That image came in handy this morning in a call with my new client, Jake. We were talking about where he’s headed and how to build his plan of action. He’s a classic “what’s next-er” – 56 years old, by external standards successful in his career and looking out toward retirement in less than ten years. He’s trying to sort out what comes next in his life, so we took a look at what he’s been chasing. Reviewing his career, we started talking about the uncertainty of both the financial and employment markets. At his firm, like many of the companies in his industry, layoffs have been happening. Quietly, but nonetheless, a steady lessening of headcounts happening around him. It has begun to unsettle him and he doesn’t want to be caught off guard this time.
Jake said, when the layoffs started in 2008, it was like the world had gone off a cliff no one had seen coming. Everyone in the financial services industry had been chasing the same elusive golden dream. At the time he was creeping up on 50, had a big nut to manage and two kids approaching college. Frankly, he said it had scared the bejeesus out of him at the time, especially because when he thought about an alternative career, he came up with a blank. “What other marketable skills did I have?” In some ways, he had survived just like Wile E., trying harder and harder to chase down the Road Runner, and hoping not to get blown up.
He survived the 2008 downturn and hadn’t lost his job like he had in the 2001 cycle, but realized that in some ways, he’d been operating his career like the Coyote, buying ever more clever devices from The Acme Company, hoping they’d help him catch that rascal “this time” and hit it big before he fell off the cliff. He had mastered the art of putting the past out of his mind, just like the Coyote. But lately, the recent shifts in the industry had made him start wondering if the Road Runner was leading him on a chase too close to the edge of the canyon again without a safety plan. That’s how he found his way to me.
Jake realized that he had become complacent as the market recovered over the past eight years, forgetting that time and again, it was the Road Runner who escaped unscathed from the chase. He knew he was at risk if he didn’t begin developing a plan and wisely chose to not stick his head in the sand and pretend nothing like that could happen again. I asked him, “What would you do if the whole business imploded?” “Eh, I’d find something else, I guess, but I’ll be damned if I know what it could be and this time I’m no spring chicken.”
That’s where I come in. I’ve been through this myself and I’ve made it my business to help others transition safely into careers that bring them the dual bonus of satisfaction and ability to support their families.
As a professional listener and career transition mentor, I’ve worked with close to a thousand professionals in the past decade. I’ve become like an emissary sent down the back alleys and cul-de-sacs of the mind, so that my clients can come to the process, not quite sure of where to go next, and I can help to point out the blazes on the trees or the subtle cairns on their wayfinding journey out of danger. But, it’s a much less frenetic trip when we have time to plan the journey, explore some new avenues and contemplate what might actually make you happier when you leave your current role. Waiting until the proverbial $*^t hits the fan and you’re faced with a layoff, isn’t an ideal way to find your way to safety or a happier life.
While normally my posts are more optimistic, I feel compelled to point out some of the practical realities you may not have allowed yourself to notice. The cycle of economic based layoffs tends to run in 7-8 year cycles. The two most recent, hard-hitting cycles that should feel familiar to readers were in 2001 and 2008. How prepared were you then to weather the storm and land on your feet in a new role? Especially if your industry was contracting. Plenty of companies are quietly reducing their workforces … Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Cisco, Microsoft, AOL, First Solar to name a few in the past month. The list goes on and it’s a familiar beginning to a cycle I’ve seen before. To think that you will be exempt from the next round of cuts in your industry or the one after that is foolish at best.
Since it is at least possible (and at worst probable) that the cycle of layoffs may brush you, what have you done to take stock of your marketable skills? Or, better yet, those skills you’re actually happy to use and bring satisfaction to your life. What if this time you actually made a career shift that increased your happiness. If you were able to earn a 10% return on your money, you’d likely say it’s a good return on your investment. Let’s work together to make the next career help you be 10% happier and more secure.
Jake and I are well underway in the process of identifying where he will be happier as he prepares for the next decade of his working life. He’s made the choice to take charge of this moment in time, rather than waiting for it to sneak up on him and shout “Beep, Beep!” and scare him half to death. Our work together is giving him the sense of preparation and allowing him to make the decision about when to leave and what he’ll enjoy pursuing, instead of thrashing about in the moment of freefall following a layoff, scrambling for something, anything to hold on to.
Ask yourself – will you be like Wile E. Coyote running off the edge of the cliff in a myopic pursuit of the Road Runner, floating in the air as if by magic, eventually, looking down with despair when gravity ends the fantasy? Or would you rather be prepared with a plan to step gracefully into your next episode where you can actually catch the happiness you’re chasing.