I’ve always been a very confident person when it comes to my ability to adapt to work, and always felt that as long as there were challenging problems to solve, I’d have no problem finding work. And while I am highly skilled, I have come to believe that I have been very lucky, and I may have therefore been a bit arrogant about my abilities.
Recently I recognized the fact that intentions and actions don’t always meet. I was flying home and the overhead bins were full next to my seat, so I walked back and placed my bag in a bin a few seats back. As I turned to go back to my seat, I saw a woman who obviously had been ready to put her bag in that spot. I work very hard to be a nice guy, but in this instance, I just continued back to my seat. My intention hadn’t been to upset this person, but my actions did so.
Last year, in October, I was released from a contract that I’d been on for a few years. I had been brought in to temporarily fill a vacancy, but was able to keep extending the contract by doing good work. The organization I was working for was worried about cash flow due to some expansion they were doing, so it seemed like this would be a temporary cost cutting measure.
Immediately after that, the market tanked, and jobs started disappearing. I wasn’t too worried, knowing that typically when jobs get scarce, contracts become more plentiful. I hadn’t had any time off for years, so I decided not to look too hard for the rest of the year.
Even though I wasn’t working too hard at finding a new job, I started to become a bit worried. I was only seeing contracts that had rates lower than salaries for the same work, and often were all inclusive out of state jobs. I did the math on a couple of these and found that I would be working for free by the time I paid for airfare and hotel.
So after the first of the year, I figured I better step the search up. I started working full time on my job search, and spending a lot more time on networking. I went to Job Connections nearly every Saturday, called and emailed friends and former coworkers, and talked to every recruiter that called. I spent hours trying to redo my resume to make it work for a couple of different types of jobs.
And during all this, I took advantage of my time off, studying for, and getting my PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. The silver lining in being out of work for many months, was that I was spending a lot of time on self improvement.
The biggest downside was watching the bank account dwindle, and trying not to panic. We reviewed finances and realized we spent way too much money on a lot of things, and cut our expenses neatly in half. We dropped our burn rate enough to extend our expected “run out of cash” date to be somewhere around the end of the year. Somehow, even though we’d both lived in the paycheck to paycheck mode before, it was almost scarier to see the cash reserves disappear. There was that unfounded fear that we’d lose everything and be homeless.
Luckily for me, my network did pay off, and I picked up a contract that a friend of mine found me. Seemed like things were rolling again. But my lesson wasn’t yet over: I underestimated some politics and made some mistakes at this contract, and I was quickly out of a job. My intentions were to help improve a less than optimal process into one that was efficient, making the lives of nurses and patients better. My actions however only gave a politically charged situation more ammunition.
I lost that job because of two bits of arrogance: not paying attention to the inner voice that told me I should uncover my stakeholder’s needs early, and overestimating my abilities. The contract was supposed to have taken me through the end of the year, instead it lasted only a few weeks. I had been humbled again.
In the mean time, people in my network continued to struggle with the job market. The average time people were unemployed was beginning to stretch out beyond a year. People with more impressive backgrounds than mine were having trouble finding jobs. Companies that really needed employees weren’t hiring to minimize risk from another downturn, or were doing things like taking advantage of the downturn to replace expensive people with less expensive ones.
So after losing that job, I really came to the conclusion I had to take whatever came along, as long as it was something I could do. I started working on equity projects for startups, splitting my time between several of them. I went to meetups, and any free networking events I could find. I took a short contract doing development work. Still the bank account dwindled.
And then out of the blue, I got a call from a woman I had worked with a couple of years ago. I work really hard to stay in touch with people, but I’m definitely humble about my abilities in that area, so I was really happy that she thought enough of me to give me that call. It was perfect timing. It was a salaried job, which I haven’t had for years. I’ve always looked at contracting as just a different way to be compensated however, so I gladly took the job.
As it turns out, it’s a huge job, that I’m sure will challenge the limits of my abilities. I have confidence in my abilities, but humility about my ability to mark the boundaries of those abilities now, which I think will help me grow and meet these challenges.
And I’m sure, as they say: “More shall be revealed …”