By Peter Weddle — Warren Buffet describes the impact of the current financial turmoil in banks and other financial institutions this way: “You only learn who’s been swimming naked when the tide goes out.” It’s a wonderfully instructive image. A high tide covers a lot of missteps and oversights, while a low tide makes them visible for all to see. Witness the emperors on Wall Street who are now running around without their designer (or any other) apparel.
The same is true with your career. When times are good, when the economy is firing on all pistons and employers are hungry for new hires, you can get away with a lot of weak spots on your occupational balance sheet. When the economy goes south, however, when employers suddenly get much pickier about who they hire and, no less important, who they retain, those aneurysms can lead to career cardiac arrest or what most of us call unemployment.
What should you do?
How do you protect yourself in today’s lowest of low tides economy? Make sure you’re swimming with something on, something that will protect you from the environment and enable you to glide more powerfully through the waters ahead. All that’s required is that you take two steps.
Step 1: Learn the principles of building a healthy career or what I call Career Fitness. Career Fitness won’t give you job security—in fact, there is no such thing in the topsy-turvy workplace of the 21st Century—but it will enable you to achieve genuine and lasting “career security.”
Job security is something an employer controls and depends entirely on its financial health. We all know how it works: when times are good, you’ve got a job; when times are bad, the job disappears and so must you. In short, job security never has and never will have anything at all to do with you. It is all about the security of the job, and from an employer’s perspective, jobs are simply boxes on an org chart. You can add them, move them around or erase them at will. The workers involved are simply collateral damage.
Career security, in contrast, is something you control, and it depends entirely on the health of your career. Career security describes your ability to find employment consistently and always in a job and with an organization that will enable you to express and experience your natural (and best) talent. It isn’t a matter of settling for the first available job or employer, but rather seeking out and successfully landing the right job with the right employer for you. Career security, then, is your capacity to act as a “smart consumer” of both employment opportunities and organizational employers at each and every stage in your career.
Achieving that capacity doesn’t happen by magic or wishful thinking. It isn’t some inalienable right granted to you by the Constitution or deeded to you by the status of your family or guaranteed to you by the pedigree of the school you attended. No, being secure in your career comes only from building and maintaining career fitness. It is the measure of the effort you make to ensure your access to the American Dream.
Step 2: Put the Career Fitness principles to work for your future by engaging in the right activities on a regular basis to build strength and endurance in your career. As indicated below, there are just seven such activities. I call them your Career Fitness “exercises.” They aren’t difficult, but like anything else that’s important, they do require an investment of time and effort on your part. They should be tailored to your individual situation, but they are applicable to everyone, whether you have thirty years or thirty minutes of experience in the workplace.
Career Fitness Exercises
I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System. The heart of your career is your occupational expertise, not your knowledge of some employer’s standard operating procedures.
II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System. The wider and deeper your network of contacts, the better able you will be to spread the word about your capabilities and goals in the workplace.
III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups. The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work , the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed.
IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion. Career progress is not always a straight line, nor does it always look as it has in the past or stay the same for very long.
V. Work With Winners. Successful organizations and coworkers aid and abet your ability to accomplish your career goals, while other organizations and less capable peers diminish it.
VI. Stretch Your Soul. A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well, by enabling you to do some of your best work as good works for your community, your country or your planet.
VII. Pace Yourself. A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need to do your best work every day you are at work.
Understanding what’s involved in these exercises and then performing them on a regular basis is the foundation of a ”system” for building Career Fitness that is presented in my new book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System. Think of it as a plan for preserving and protecting your part in the American Dream.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—the tide is already out, so isn’t such an effort way too late? Aren’t some of us—maybe many of us—already exposed and therefore at the mercy of the elements? Yes and no. If you find that you’ve been swimming without something on, the year ahead is probably going to be a bit bumpy. However, it need not leave you high and dry. The tide will come back in and, when it does, you can be ready to reset your course—you can be primed to reaccelerate your momentum in the workplace—if you are swimming with something on. If you have prepared yourself by building a fit career.
Thanks for reading,