Musical Chairs and Slippery Slopes

In the fall of last year, I found out that I would be losing my job working for a family-owned company that I loved. My job loss was due to no fault of my own. The company was restructuring, and in the game of musical chairs that took place as a result, I lost.

I had a counterpart in another country that I had worked with very closely throughout the six years I’d been there and I was grateful that, if one of us had to go, it was me.  While we lament the 10% national employment rate we’ve been experiencing in our country of late, his country had dealt with 16% in recent years.  He’d also been with the company much longer than I had, so his experience working in other companies and adapting to distinct corporate cultures was much more limited than mine.  To me, it seemed that I’d have an easier time redefining my career yet again.  Why is that?  Well…  I’d had to do it before, many times.

Prior to this last job, I’d owned my own small consulting firm for 16 years. That had been my first “real” job, started at the age of 19. As a result, I’d been in and out of a variety of companies in totally different industries. So, my exposure to corporate cultures and small businesses alike was vast compared to many other people. I counted more than 30 companies as my clients, ranging from your large, international corporation to the small local utility company to the even smaller local garden club.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t figure out how to get started this time. I was out of the loop in terms of where to find jobs now. On top of that, I was finding that to apply to job postings, I had to pick and choose from my skill sets. The totality of the experience I’d gained over the years needed to be compartmentalized and parceled out depending on the job I wanted to apply for. It seemed the same to me as letting people know that I had two feet, but not the legs to move them; or two hands, but not the arms that they require to be useful. I have both a heart and a head, and they work in combination. Why would anyone want to employ one part, and ignore that the others exist?

At that point, I had the good fortune of learning that social media had changed the way the people find work now. While the job boards still exist and there are still recruiters to call, social media enabled job seekers and business owners alike to show what they are made of. The availability of social networking sites and the visibility of the internet allow us to share who we are to the wider world. We can establish our expertise in our chosen profession, make connections with people, and give a sense of what we value without ever having to leave the comfort of our own homes.

Now that sounded great to me. But I quickly realized that without answering certain questions for myself, I could never give a clear impression of who I was to anyone else. Things like the age-old question of “who did I want to be when I grew up?” as well as “what did I want to be doing with the next 5 years of my life?” and “what was I willing to do to support my family?” Some of these questions were easily answered, but others were not.

For instance, I knew that I did not want to discount any of my business skill sets, but it seemed that if I didn’t focus on just one of them, my chances of finding employment would be much slimmer. So, that led to the next question. “What happens if I refuse to be less than who I am?” Amazingly enough, the answer came very quickly (much like sliding down a slippery slope)… I’d have to figure out how to make them a marketable package, which most likely meant offering them as consulting services. Oops…  Had I just talked myself into starting a new company? It seems I had… For it was only in that way that I could be true to the sum of my work experience and life passions.

While I had originally seen social media as a means of marketing myself as a prospective employee in someone else’s company, I soon saw its value to starting my own. So my initial use of social networking was purely to let people get to know me, to see my servant leadership, and to appreciate my expertise and knowledge. All of these things would be beneficial for my growing company as well as for potential employers to see.

Then I began using my network as a means of communicating what my business was doing, and as a means of sharing useful, relevant information with my audience. However, my main focus is still on building relationships, because that’s what “social networking” is all about. And whether this leads to a burgeoning company or an offer of employment somewhere, the exercise will never have been wasted; for I am richer for coming to know all of you…

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