we are all consultants now

In trying to understand the way jobs are evolving, particularly for white collar professions, I find two phrases quite useful:

  • We are all between job searches.
  • All jobs are now contract consulting jobs.

“Whoa, wait a minute!” you might exclaim. “I have a steady job!  I’ve been there for 5 years, and I’m a full-time employee with a load of benefits!  There’s no way I could consider myself as a contract consultant, and I don’t plan to search for a new job anytime soon!”  Well, I have news for you are:  you should, and you will.

We are all between job searches

The average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.8 jobs from age 18 to age 42. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S.  That’s people a little bit older than my age group (I’m early Gen X).  The rates are even higher for milllenials.  So think about that:  the average person changes jobs approximately every two years.  That’s the average, which means that many people change jobs more frequently than that.  Even if we discount the “can’t hold a job” types, it’s a safe bet to make that most people will change jobs within the next few years.

Anecdotally, I’ve met a number of people who worked for a company for 30 years who suddenly find themselves back in the hunt due to downsizing, sale of the company, mergers, etc. It’s simply unrealistic to assume that with today’s rapid changes in technology, high unemployment and global competition that employers will be loyal to older, higher-salaried employees.  They won’t be.  So even if you’ve held that job for years, there’s someone there who will do it cheaper, and maybe better.

All jobs are now contract consulting jobs

This is a point I’ve heard made by a lot of career coaches.  It’s not so much that structurally we are all contract consultants.  I happen to be a contract consultant, which means I lack a lot of the benefits of an employee:  I don’t get medical insurance partially paid for by an employer, I don’t have 401(k) matching funds, I don’t have vacation time and I don’t get a company car.  I do get time and half pay for overtime, a much more flexible schedule and I get paid substantially more than my full-time colleagues, meaning I can take care of those other ‘lacks’ with the far greater gross salary I get.  But the benefits are just a smoke screen, and easy access to them is one way employers try to distract you from the reality of your job:  you are not in business for your employer; you have to think of yourself as being in business for yourself, even if (especially if!) you are a full-time employee.
My average contract runs about 9 months to a year. As we noted above, the average employee changes jobs every two years.  Do you think the need to define yourself as a ‘brand’ isn’t important if you change jobs?  You need to create the same selling proposition if you’re an employee that a consultant does.  You aren’t someone who can afford to latch onto one good company and then throw yourself into that company’s business to the exclusion of your own career.  You need to network and sell just as aggressively as a consultant.  Nobody has the time to take time off from preparing for the next job anymore.  I’ve seen it happen too often:  people who get comfortable at a job and let their network fall apart.  They don’t stay abreast of changes in their industry.  They don’t think about keeping an eye out for the next job, and then WHAM!  Here comes a downsizing after the company missed earnings in the latest quarter.

Conclusion:  Always think two steps ahead

It’s said about great chess players that their greatest ability is the ability to think multiple moves ahead. A grand master isn’t looking at her opponent’s move and reacting to that: she’s looking at that move, her move, her opponent’s potential counter moves and so on for 7-8 moves into the future.  That’s how you need to think about your job.  Don’t just find “the next job” – think about how that could position you for the next job.  Think how it’s going to look on a resume five years from now.  And don’t think you won’t move on.  You will.  I’d be willing to bet that almost no-one who’s an employee reading this post who is less than 40 years old will retire working for their current company.  But I am willing to bet that anyone who learns these new paradigms (1. We are all between job searches and 2. All jobs are now contract consulting jobs) will prosper in the challenging job markets in the years ahead.

 

Suzdal, and links

Suzdal, churches leaving suzdal

 

I was looking through some old photos and found some I took on a weekend trip to the Russian countryside with some of my friends back in the mid-9os.  We drove out to a village in the Golden Circle outside of Moscow – the ancient town of Suzdal – rented some rooms in an Orthodox monastery and hit the village’s “night life.”  I had a delightful dinner of hot dogs with sour cream and french fries with sour cream (and probably rum, since I never touched vodka while I was in Russia – it was always watered down/contaminated with PGA or some other vile mix), and then the Boney M started pumping.  Yes, Boney M.  Check Google if you don’t remember “Rasputin” or “Brown Girl in the Ring.”  I managed to freak out a few locals by speaking Russian (“Americans don’t speak Russian – where are you REALLY from?”) and then gritting my teeth for the usual mid-90s Russian bar playlist (“Hotel California” played prominently… more than once).

 

Suzdal, looking out at night

 

The “club” was overwhelmed with American tourists, so most of the evening was spent complaining about the clubs being overwhelmed with American tourists, a complaint well known to most residents of big cities outside of America.  We got back to the monastery after curfew, and the ancient massive gate was closed with a giant wooden bolt.  Thanks to me jimmying the ancient monastery defenses, we snuck back in.  It was so cold that the snow had frozen over.  The next morning, it snowed heavily, we ate some gruel and returned to the big city in our rented 2-cylinder car.  Living in Florida today makes this snowy, alien memory seem almost fake to me…  but it did happen.  Strange.

 

Suzdal, our cabins

A few links, with a bonus section following…

FINCON 11

I had good reasons for not attending FinCon11 – a pending sale of my client’s company meant I might be busy, so taking time off might not have been a good idea – but in retrospect I should have attended.  So many of the bloggers I know and respect from years of “virtually” working with them had such a great time that I’m regretting not attending.  I would have been thrilled to meet some bloggers I’ve know for years virtually  – Pinyo, Mike, Ryan, Glen – and also many of  the MoneyWriters.  Oh well, I’ll go next year (by which time I intend to be a full-time writer and online entrepreneur, according to my goals – ambitious, but hey, it’s what I want to do).

friday quotes: improving on others

Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
Socrates

I sometimes feel that I’m improving on the work of others without actually contributing anything new of my own, because I read a lot.  It’s not true, of course – this blog represents my thoughts and my writing, and I haven’t copied anyone’s thought processes (other than my own) in posting here.  But I do feel from time to time that I’m just borrowing the ideas of others in posting.

I wrote recently about the importance of the creative act and about early acquisition of skills.  I had that message reinforced strongly while watching an infinitely forgettable music video yesterday.  It was a live video of a rock group.  It was one of those “life on the road” videos showing them on the bus, setting up for the show, meeting the fans, yada yada yada.  If you know me from reading the blog for a while you might guess it was in a foreign language, and you’d be right.  But the moment that impressed me was when a young fan, standing in line for an autograph, finally met his “rock heroes” and shouted out in a foreign language that they didn’t understand that they were the central meaning of his life (loosely translated).

Now, I understand teenage hyperbole.  I also understand media craziness – I’m sure the video was cut just so.  But I was struck by the fact that this teenager was so influenced by this band that he told them they were the meaning of his life, knowing they didn’t speak his language.  He leaned forward over the autograph table and gushed.  He didn’t expect them to understand, he just wanted to thank them.  Isn’t that another tribute to the power of the act of creating art?

I’d like to meet someone who doesn’t think that it would be fulfilling to create something that would prompt someone else to cry, hug, jabber when they met the author of that something.  I’d love to be in that situation.  I think most creative types would, too, and most non-creative types are just looking for a chance to do the same.  It’s why we all post on Facebook.  But if you want a chance to express yourself, just ask.  There’s lots of people – like me – who are willing to help.  The world needs more – not less – opinions!

aluminum boats

Here’s a quick and simple game for kids.  Give them some aluminum foil – an equal amount for each kid.  Tell them to design a boat, and then take the boats outside and float them in tubs of water. Start adding pennies to each boat, and see which boat can hold the most pennies before sinking.

The lesson which the kids will learn is that large, flat and wide boats float better with pennies in them than small, narrow and steep boats.  I read about this game in my mom’s blog – she’s a gifted teacher for young kids and presents them with these challenges that are appropriate for young kids.  I’d argue most older people would struggle with this challenge, too.

When I was substitute teaching as a gifted teacher back in college*, I executed a plan laid out by the teacher (who, coincidentally, was my mom):  here’s an egg, here’s a lot of paper, let’s go to the second story and construct a device that will get the egg to the ground without breaking.  It’s a tough challenge!  But kids managed to do it every year.

You can give anyone a challenge.  As a kid, it’s easy to rise to it – everything is new and you WANT, desperately, to overcome.  You’re going to apply yourself and overcome it, because you’re excited to learn, to challenge, to overcome.  I think most of lose that feeling over the years.  A challenge becomes an irritant, not a possibility.  You just want things to go away instead of wanting to beat them.  I know I do from time to time.

But life is full of challenges, and to live life fully you have to attack those challenges with the assumption they are solvable.  Otherwise, you’re just going to take the path of least resistance and end up disappointed and frustrated.  Build a great aluminum boat, and watch it float.

*I was a substitute junior high teacher throughout college and a college instructor for 3 years – I fully intended to be a teacher, and I’ve taught hundreds of hours of classroom time.  So I say I was “a teacher” although I was simply an itinerant member of the profession.

Steve Jobs – an obituary

I’m sure I’ve made it clear during the four years I’ve written here at brip blap that I’m no fan of Apple.  I don’t like the pretentious nature of their advertising, their closed source software, or the fawning attention paid to their products that command a tiny percentage of the market.  But when I learned of Steve Jobs’ passing yesterday, I realized that I did admire him.  He created something that people love.  He should be admired for that.  How many of us have created things that others love passionately?  I’d desperately love for brip blap to be admired as deeply as so many people admire Apple.

Steve Jobs was a brilliant man, but the thing I admire most about him was that he failed several times and kept coming back with greater success after each failure.  Even though it’s legend now, think about it:  he got fired from Apple, the company HE founded.  He went from there to Pixar, a company you might have heard of, and then back to Apple, resurrecting them from near-irrelevance.

By all accounts he was a good person, creative, and even though I’ve never loved his products, I’ll miss him.  Rest in peace, Steve.

Here are three great quotes from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

And the best quote – which reflects the largest part of the aspirational goals of my life going forward:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Keng Susumpow

always embrace life

I posted this before, because from time to time I like to put a video up that’s unrelated to finance, etc. This one is touching and relates to health, if nothing else. Call me a sucker for sentimental safety reminders, but I imagine that the number one health tip – in terms of extending your life – is probably “always wear a seat belt.” I remember my friend – my family’s doctor, who was almost my age – who always told my family that the two surefire ways to extend our lives were to wear seatbelts and to quit/never start smoking. He was right – those two small things are huge determinants in living longer – and given my recent interest in The Singularity, I ought to pay attention to that type of information.  As should you.  I’ve know several people who died in car crashes (with or without seatbelts) and had one friend who broke his neck because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt:  so put on a seat belt on, always.  Please.

the best time to start a new job search? today

milton

How is this for your dream job? Awful, boring, mundane work, lots of travel to uninteresting box buildings located in bland office parks, pay that’s not competitive, poor benefits, long hours and uncomfortable, privacy-obliterating cubicles that smell like Windex.  Sounds awful, doesn’t it?  Piling on further, though, let’s throw in a few broken promises for promotions and raises.  Top it all off with a boss who dislikes you.  He doesn’t invite you in his office, he doesn’t ask you to meetings and routinely complains about your work to you and your co-workers.  I can’t imagine a scenario that would be much more dehumanizing, but what’s truly depressing about it is how so many people endure this office-of-horrors for weeks, months or years without trying to change it.

I’m not talking about leaving corporate life for a blissful career as a social media guru or cheerful organic tomato farmer. I’m not talking about stalking through the cube farm with an AK as a solution, either.  I’m just talking about taking a stab at another job for a minor increase in happiness.  I see people lower their heads and return glumly to work after being dismissed, humiliated and almost broken every day.  I tend to get a lot of miserable employees complaining to me about their situations (since I’m not an employee, I’m “safe” to talk to).  When the picture gets as grim as described above, the conversation almost always plays out like one of those dream sequences in which you watch the monster running towards you, but your feet remain planted in concrete – something terrible is coming, but it’s inescapable:

Glumkins: “I hate my job, I hate everything about it.”
Me: “Too bad.  You can’t transfer or anything like that?”
Glumkins:  “No, I’d need help from my boss.”
Me: “Well, life is short and it’s not worth putting up with a situation like this forever.  Maybe you should think about quitting.”
Glumkins: “No!  The economy is terrible!  Plus I have a mortgage/2.3 kids/credit card debt/a new car payment/etc.”
Me: “Yeah, but since you’ve been looking for a new job for a while, you’re bound to have some leads…”
Glumkins: “I’ve been MEANING to start looking, but I’m just so busy – plus it’s hard to interview, my resume is outdated, I have this big project here…”
Me: “You hate your job, your boss hates you, you have no future and in all likelihood you’ll be the first head on a platter when the layoffs come… and you aren’t actively looking for a new job?”
Glumkins: “But nobody’s hiring!”
Me: “Nobody’s breaking into your home at night while you’re watching American Idol and offering you a job, if that’s what you mean.”

Why is it that people wait for a good time to look for new work? Why, if you were in a terrible job like the one I’ve described above, would you worry about how “difficult” it might be to sneak away for an interview?  Why would you give a second’s thought to trying to stick it out?

I suppose an optimistic person might hope for their boss to quit and Sandra Bullock to swoop in and become the chirpy, best-buddy boss in a romantic comedy.
Yep.  That happens almost everyday, according to the movies.  When I see employees stuck in a dead end job, I feel badly.  I try to help by offering advice or encouragement.  When I see the same employee sit on their hands month after month without looking for a new job – but talking on the phone about last night’s episode of CSI – I want to knock the stupid out of them.

If you aren’t keeping a What-I-Done-Did file, start now
.  Update your resume.  Sign up for LinkedIn.  Get on Twitter (and yes, I’m getting as tired as everyone else of oh-so-important-Twitter but hey, if you can’t beat ’em…).  And most importantly, start looking!  One of the worst feelings you can have related to your career is a sense of powerlessness – a lack of choice.  If nothing else, a job search gives you back a tiny bit of control and forcefeeds a drop of hope into your system.

We all know Milton from Office Space. We all laugh at him, but sit back and look in the mirror.  If you skip washing your hair for a few days, dress like a doofus and mumble a bit, could you fit the part?  I could.  But if so, go grab that red stapler and flee for the hills as soon as you can.

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