Good Work: A Whack in the Head

Something startles me where I thought I was safest  -Whitman (The Compost)
Everything is changing.  The currency of the new global economy is knowledge, the engine is technology.  An expanding knowledge base is creating rapid technological advances.  The ability to deliver advanced and portable technology at affordable prices is accelerating communication.  Worldwide communication is accelerating globalization of the economic system, which in turn is making every industry more competitive.
What does all this mean for you?  If you are a young adult, you may change jobs even faster than the dozen jobs and four careers in 20 years that I have experienced.  Job changes can be scary, especially when you don’t initiate them!
Early in my thirties I experienced a ‘lateral move’ that meant a step off the escalator of advancement.  It was a real whack in the head.  My first response was “Not me, I’m good at what I do.”  I was humiliated.  The move required a hard reset.  It required new eyes and the development of a new identity, one based not based on my current job but one based on the contributions I knew I could make.
The transition was painful as most profound learning experiences are.  It forced me to reevaluate everything–my work, my relationships, who I was and wanted to be as a person.  And then it was time to start over.  The move sent me groping for new models, patterns and rules.  After the pain of a so-called lateral move had been replaced by the urgency to renew my contribution and take back some measure of control over the events in my career I had time to reflect on the experience.  Adapting to a new reality meant accepting discontinuity with the past, coming from a new center and applying disruptive tools.
Returning to zero means creating a new identity around competency and calling, a set of possibilities, rather than a title on a business card.  It requires an inventory that takes perspective that other people may need to help you assemble.  It requires you to ask, “What do I enjoy doing?  ‘What am I good at?’ and ‘Where have I found success and satisfaction?”  Coming from a new place requires a break with the past.  It could be as short as a vacation but it may require a geographical move.  But it always requires introspection deep enough to find a new center, a new calling, and a new purpose.
Life in the information age is like playing third base in softball – you are never more than a split second from a line drive.  The advice that I gave to my daughter in that regard applies broadly to life at work,  “be active, move your feet, stay awake.”  Enjoy the game.
Good Work is a Sunday series on finding and doing mission driven work.  We’d love to hear your story. 

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

1 Comment

John Rotheray

Having lost a job to downsizing and another to an acquisition, I can relate to the struggle our labor pool has had with the increased risk of unexpected joblessness in today's economy.
While no one can change the new competitive realities of our world, innovations in post-graduate education could provide workers with smoother job transitions. Imagine an education system that can 'trickle-charge' the workforce with new skills to increase their labor value.
That would be good for society and our economy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.