Keeping one’s business skills up-to-date and relevant has never been more important in this era of ever-evolving technology. But what if what you had been doing for more than twenty five years was increasingly irrelevant? I can tell you that after working in and around the commercial printing business for more than those twenty-five years, sometimes despite that you can even see the train coming down the tracks getting out of the way in time is not as easy as it sounds.
I’ve been telling people that for the past couple of years. I am very aware that I am far from alone. Last week, I received an email from a longtime friend and colleague in the executive search business. He and I have not spoken in a few months and while I knew business had become more difficult I did not realize the degree that executive search (everyone avoids calling it headhunting but we all know better), had changed – forever. Like the commercial printing business and the newspaper business, technology has impacted the executive search business with sites like The Ladders and LinkedIn having changed the way employers look for and engage new potential employees.
I had not really been thinking about the ways successful search professionals were on their own road to irrelevance. While this is in no way gratifying to know since there is no joy in watching the misery of others, it’s highly disturbing and I will go ahead and say it – patently unfair! When as a young person you ‘choose’ a career (you don’t always get to choose), it’s not likely that you are concerned at all with the future viability of the chosen industry. After all, to a twenty one year old, twenty five years seems like a lifetime.
So if you accept that I’ve revealed something important and established the unfairness of it all, you might ask – now what? With a little luck you at least saw the train on the tracks and have been thinking about what will be your next move. Getting off the tracks is of course an obvious and very good idea. But you should also be considering how you will handle your professional convalescence if you don’t get off those tracks in time.
You may not know exactly what you will do but you can prepare for how you are going to approach your professional future. It’s a shock any way you look at it. Will you be able to resist the easy response of withdrawing or worse being mad at the world? At times I exhibited one or both of those behaviors. I knew it wasn’t my fault and yet I also knew it was my responsibility to figure out what to do next. Everyone will tell you (as they told me) that ‘It takes time’. But it’s not their time. It’s my time and – well, it sucks.
Your family, friends and professional colleagues will be invaluable should it happen to you one day (and I hope that it does not). But what is more important as far as I am concerned is the maintaining of a positive attitude and having a willingness to try and learn new things. This is easier said than done to be sure, but critically important. Things move fast, there’s a ton of new information every day and I don’t learn the same way I did when I was twenty one years old. But I do know I love learning about new things and I don’t believe in the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.
What would you do tomorrow if your career today was no longer viable?