Thursday, January 31, 2008

Keeping focused on career exploration when work is busy

I've spent a lot of time in the past weeks contemplating my career. I've had the time to do it because my freelance business was slow. Scary slow, for the first time in a couple years. And it had been slow for a couple months. I would have probably done all this navel-gazing at some point this year, since I'll turn 40 whether my business is busy or not. But I'm pretty sure I got started, blog and all, because I had the time.

Well, like all freelancers, work ebbs and flows. And this last week the ebb started flowing a bit better. Still not long-term, relax-about-paying-the-mortgage, but busy nonetheless. Which means the time left to me for blog writing and career exploration has lessened.

I knew this would happen, but I don't want to lose focus. I didn't go into this just because work was slow. I'm very serious about sorting out my career future, and want to keep at it.

I'll need to find a way to fit this in.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Finding a work partner?

I learned last week that a very small marketing agency I've partnered with occasionally is folding its tents and joining up with a bigger agency. While it's great news for them, I'm a bit down about it.

When I heard, I realized that one option I had been considering for the near future was to partner up with a like-minded person or small group to work on stuff together. I've had this informal relationship with the folding agency for a few years, and we've done some great projects together. I think in the back of my mind I thought down the road I'd talk to them about moving in-house with them, which may have lessened my need to constantly source work, while still getting to work on interesting projects.

The folding agency and I shared the same work philosophy and ethical interests, so it's really disappointing to me to lose them as a partner. Their new agency is great people, but they don't use freelancers, or at least when they do, they don't pay any where near what I need to be paid.

Still, it does get me thinking about how I would find that kind of partner. The right small group situation might allow enough freedom to keep my independence feeling, while sharing resources and client development. Would it make it easier to keep from the constant fear of not having enough work to pay the mortgage if I shared the burden?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Agency work vs entrepreneur

I had lunch this week with a friend who has a very senior role at a PR agency. We discussed my career exploration a lot, and she had some interesting things to say.

First, her agency seems to be populated primarily with 20- and 30-somethings. There are a few people under 45 in senior roles, but no one in their 50s. We discussed whether there is a role for someone in their latter two working decades at an agency like hers, and her best answer is "I don't know.", which is interesting given she's nearly 45. In her experience, agencies can have regular relationships with senior consultants in their 50s and 60s, but because of the economics, only uses contractors like there sparingly, preferring to hire someone in-house if there's enough work for a full-time staffer. And these people tend to have narrow specialties, like media trainer or speech writer.

So this lunch didn't answer any questions, but it was still helpful to understand. And the best part of it was she flattered me. I asked for her advice on what it would take for an agency to hire me, if I later chose to trade the freedom of my self-employment for the security of an agency salary. She seemed to think that my career lacked nothing in that regard, and that if I wanted an agency job I could probably find one now. She even hinted at salary figures for someone at my level, as a senior manager, and I gotta say they were much higher than I would have expected.

The down side to her description of agency work, besides the long hours in a downtown office, is that the constant need to find new business wouldn't go away if I had an agency job. She told me that every employee beyond the very junior is expected to bring in new business. In other words, trolling for work wouldn't go away, but perhaps the intense pressure I feel as an entrepreneur might lessen.

Things to think about...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Asking around

As part of my whole career exploration post-40, I've made a list of successful women in my city that I know, women who are older than me, at least a little, who seem to have their working lives in order. I'm hoping that these women, who primarily work in PR or marketing, have figured out what kind of professional role is possible for someone of my skills in her 50s and 60s.

Armed with my list, I am slowly calling and scheduling lunches/coffee/drinks with each of them and chewing the fat on the subject of "What should I be when I grow up?" On the one hand, I'm hoping I'll get offered some great advice on revisioning my career and setting new goals for the next half. At the same time, I can't deny that this is good networking too. But really, it's the career goals that drive me to this. Hopefully I'll work my way through the list over the next several months.

Funny that essentially I'm doing "informational interviews." I find this ironic because when I first moved to this city 12+ years ago, I did this kind of thing with people I didn't know in order to get a handle on the PR scene in town. Back then I was job-hunting, or contract seeking. I guess I have more in common with my 20-something self than I thought.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Changing agencies every two years

Via Strategic Public Relations, I read an article stating that most clients change their marketing/ad/PR agencies every two years.

I have worked in PR for many years, so this was relevant to me. I guess in a way it was reassuring to note that even agencies, not just one-woman-shops like myself, deal with client churn. It's the part I hate most about my current work situation -- the constant trolling for work. It's the part of my job I can't imagine doing into my 50s and 60s. If someone else just handed me work all the time, but I still got to keep my freelancer status, earn the same rate, work my own hours etc., that would be my ideal. THAT I could do for another 25 years.

Unfortunately, life doesn't work like that. And this article bears out that it is pretty impossible to do agency or freelance work without the continual search for new work.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Entrepreneurship instead of retirement

I found this interesting article in BC Business this weekend talking about a couple baby boomers who chose entrepreneurship over actual retirement. I thought it was an interesting take on what the last decade -- or maybe the 60s are not the last -- of work can become. I don't know if it really applies to me, since I've been an entrepreneur most of my career to date, and haven't had a secure job like they have, but it's an interesting read nonetheless, if only for the intro, which says in part about baby boomers:

For many, what used to be called “retirement” is an opportunity to start their own businesses.

As I've said before, I find myself without a lot of role models of what my last two decades of work would look like, so I'm seeking ideas like this to at least understand, if not actually emulate. My parents, my inlaws, and most of their generation, worked at one company their whole lives until they were old enough to retire, something I can't even fathom. At least this article presents a credible alternative to consider.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gen X short changed by demography

Linda Duxbury really hits the nail on the head about my demographic, the embittered Gen X:

Generation X, a term popularized by Canadian author Douglas Coupland in the 1990s, includes anyone born between 1961 and 1974. Duxbury explains Generation X’s job market as follows: “Members of Generation X followed this huge cohort, the Boomers, into the labour market just when the labour market tanked. When those born in 1961 were trying to get their first jobs we hit a recession, followed by a jobless recovery, followed by another recession. So there was tremendous competition for jobs in this particular group. They had trouble getting permanent work and they had trouble keeping permanent work.”

Members of Generation X are often portrayed in the media as apathetic cynics who are over-educated and underachieving. Another term closely linked with this generation is McJob – a low-paying job with little stimulation and few prospects. This is certainly not a flattering portrayal of a generation, but these characteristics as a generational response to a point in time are justified. To put it simply, Generation X was short changed by demography.

That's me to a T. I have never had a long-term job -- I've always had to make my own opportunities. I've had many jobs for which I was underemployed, until the past few years was what I always thought was underpaid, and a lack of prospects I guess is what prompted this blog.

It's nice to know I'm not alone in this.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finding your passion Part 2

A 50-something friend and I recently had drinks and talked about this professional dilemma of mine. She has had a varied career in marketing, and has had some serious highs and lows in both her career and personal life. She worked a lot in high tech -- 'nuff said.

For the past year she's had a job she enjoys but that bores her, but she's okay with that right now because she found her passion outside of work. She's in love with a new sport, and enjoys it so much it's become the focus of most of her free time, her travel and her play time. Her partner enjoys the sport too, so she has someone to enjoy it with. And she's begun blogging about it, which has offered her a creative outlet, mildly related to her profession (marketing/writing). And she's really happy.

This brings me kinda back to the boiled frog post -- do you really have to enjoy work that much, or is it okay to just put in time at your job and have your 'passion' outside of work?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Finding your passion Part 1

I did some work last year for a 25-year-old guy who decided to try a job a week for a whole year. Sean Aiken's goal is to find out what kind of work he wants to do now that he has finished business school. I think in the end he's found a career as a speaker talking about his one-year experience. He's blogged the whole thing of course at One Week Job. It's a fun experiment that is perfect for someone of his age and generation. And Sean has a lot to say about his generation and their lack of commitment to the workplace.

Sean talks a lot about "finding your passion" -- seeking out something you feel passionate about and making that your life's work. I think it's great advice, but am not sure it gives me any answers. What if my passion lies outside work life? What if my passion is what I already do? As I've said before, I don't believe I can keep earning a living at this for another 25 years, even if I'm passionate about it.

More on this topic tomorrow.

Becoming a boiled frog

Have you ever heard Linda Duxbury speak? She's a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and she specializes in work-life and demographics. She talks about how the demographics of the workplace influence how to attract and retain workers. There's the huge cohort of baby boomers, followed by the small cohort of Gen Xers (me included!), tailed by a bigger group of Echo Boomers (or Gen Y or whatever name you like for them!), and each group has their own unique experiences and desires in the work world.

Let's talk first about baby boomers, because they are my only current role models of what work should be like for me over the next twenty years. Duxbury calls them 'boiled frogs." From a article about Duxbury's presentation:

"Research shows that frogs placed in a pot of water that is slowly heated until it reaches a boil will not jump out of the pot. They will remain in the water as it heats up and until they eventually die. However, a frog that is placed directly into a pot of already boiling water will immediately jump out knowing they cannot survive under such circumstances.

And such is the case of today’s workplace. More senior employees are typically part of the Baby Boom demographic and over their many years in the workforce they have become accustomed to the increased demands placed upon them and the deteriorating work environment and have accepted the consequences on their health and families."

Duxbury says these people become "retired on the job," putting in their time until they can finally retire. And it really rings true for a lot of 50 and 60-somethings I've worked with in the last few years.

So is this the fate that awaits me? Should I look for a full-time job where I can just while away the next two decades awaiting retirement? It does have some attraction -- when work doesn't consume your life, you can focus on other things. But is that satisfying?

Monday, January 14, 2008

40 under 40 as a goal?

Over the winter break I read Business in Vancouver's 40 Under 40 feature and it was one of the things that made me start on this quest for career goals past 40. All those 20-30-somethings who were being recognized for having achieved success in their working lives -- where do they go now?

When you hit the pinnacle of your career before the half-way mark, how do you continue? I have no aspirations to become a CEO or SVP or COO or any of those other acronyms. I don't terribly want to build a big company. And frankly I like my profession a lot, and at least today, am not planning on changing careers. I just want to know what I'm building up to now.

It's not like they publish 50 Under 50 or 60 Under 60 lists.

Friday, January 11, 2008

You mean I have to work another 25 years?!

I'm turning 40 this year, and it's sent me into a bit of tailspin.

Not because I'm old -- I don't mind being this age and look and feel great. Not because there are things I didn't do before the 'best years of my life' were behind me -- I have a good career and I'm good at it, I'm married, we own a home, I have kids and on track for all that stuff.

No, I'm in a tailspin because I've realized that I have 25 more years to work, and I don't think I want to be doing things the way I'm doing them now, at least not for that long!

All my work role models to date were my parents and their generation. They had real jobs, and stayed at them, usually at one company, for their whole lives, then retired. But I've been self-employed for most of my career. I've had jobs for two years, six months, part time for a year -- but it always comes back to finding my own opportunities and building my own business.

Well fine, that's worked out okay for the last 15 or so years, but I can't see me chasing contracts or projects in my 50s and 60s. What ever will I be when I grow up?