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Losing a Job, Reclaiming a Life

leaping_hip_hop_dancer.gif“Life is 5% what happens and 95% how you react.
Kanye West

I’m in Tokyo for a couple of weeks, working on my doctoral research and seeing family and friends between interviews and writing sessions. The other day I enjoyed dinner with Brad, a longtime buddy who’s been in mobile communications for some ten years. He lost his job a few months back, and wanted to talk about life, work — and going solo.

“I went to see a recruiter about a month before I got canned,” he said over a Club sandwich at a basement café in Omotesando. “I told him, ‘I know I’m going to get the ax, and want to see if I can find something preemptively.’

“The guy looked at me like I’d sprouted green dreadlocks. ‘Don’t quit your job now,’ he urged. ‘Nokia just let 60 people go, and a bunch of them are showing up here. Stay put as long as you can!’

“Two months later, that recruiter’s company closed down, and he himself was out of a job.”

As I listened, I tucked into my maguro tuna garlic steak. Outrageously good. Brad continued.

“That mindset — that your well-being and success depends on an organization — just blows me away. Now that I’m older, I see how I’m the one creating value, I’m the one who makes things happen.”

He went on to detail the events leading up to losing his job, his anxiety over continuing to provide effectively for his wife and children, his unforeseen excitement about being forced to pursue career and personal goals closer to his true self.

Reflective, Brad returned to his sandwich. I told him I got his drift about the “dependency mindset,” and that it often results in too much work time spent resolving conflicts unrelated to operations. Turf battles, personality clashes, political struggles. Those things are a huge part of salaried employment.

overwhelmed_executive.gif“In fact,” I said,  “most office jobs can be done in three or four concentrated, uninterrupted hours of real work or day. It’s the attendant nonsense — plus meetings, administrivia, and commuting — that claims the rest of employee time. The key challenge of blowing all that off and going solo is securing the steady income of a conventional job: the relentless salary that rolls in month after month.”

Brad began describing possibilities for his new, non-employee career. He’d already secured a temporary gig with a mobile content consultancy, enough to carry him through the following month, and now he was looking at combining three part-time opportunities that might equal or even surpass his previous income — all the while letting him focus on areas of greater personal interest, minus the commute, conflicts, and constricted hours of conventional employment.

“I’m starting to see how losing my job has pushed me to a new level of awareness about the nature of work,” he said, bright-eyed. “When you put yourself out there, things start to happen. If you make ten tries, one or two might work out. Make 20, four or five might work out. It’s not like you make ten tries and nothing happens.”

I nodded, recalling my favorite takeaway from Rich Dad Poor Dad: The amount of revenue coming in is directly proportional to the number of communications going out.

Brad paused. “I don’t know why any of this should come as a surprise, but somehow my thinking has changed.”

Time for an epigram, I decided, and quoted from a new book by Kanye West: “Life is five percent what happens and 95% how you react.”

Brad kept talking, and I kept listening. As we parted, he thanked me profusely for the “energizing discussion.” I nodded with a smile. He had energized himself. He’d lost a job, and now was reclaiming his life.

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2 Comments to Losing a Job, Reclaiming a Life

On Jun 5, 2009, Aaron commented:

“That mindset” is what investors refer to as business risk. It’s interesting that our culture designs this type of business risk into our employment. There are a lot of things businesses and investors know about handling risk that people could still learn from.

On Jun 7, 2009, by Tim commented:

Well said, Aaron. Going solo means taking the leap to an “employer” mindset; becoming your own P&L center, so to speak.

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