Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting at your workspace getting ready to start your day as a loyal employee at XYZ Inc. The owner of the company walks by in frustration and tosses you the keys to the building and says, “I’ve had it. It’s all yours…you’re in charge”. You find yourself the proud new owner of the company and you move the photos and trinkets from your cubicle into the boss’s plush office. After you have a new nameplate for the door engraved, you’re asked by your staff, “Now what?”. Would you have the slightest idea what to do?
Most of us who have worked for a company are trained pretty well on the various nuances of our specific role. Beyond that, however, we’re sort of left on our own when it comes to professional development unrelated to our job description. So, if and when the boss tosses those keys to us, we’re left to fend for ourselves or maybe seek out those who would have been better left in charge.
A second, even scarier scenario is this; you’re sitting at your workspace and your boss walks up to you and says, “I hate to say this, but today is your last day working here. Thanks for everything and please leave your name badge at the front gate on your way out.” For most of us, the natural instinct would be to look for a new job with many of the same job functions…but only after drowning our sorrows with several martinis. But what if you hated the job you were just asked to leave and you wanted to start your own business? Would you know what to do?
Most entrepreneurs start with an idea and a set of skills that they have been trained on at some point. For me, in 25 years in Corporate America, I was trained primarily in the areas of “soft skills”. Selling skills training every year for two plus decades supposedly made me an “expert” in such matters. What I found, however, that by shaking a tree, at least a dozen other such “experts” will fall out of it. They’re everywhere! I realized that after so many years in a well-paying corporate role, I had very few tangible skills that I could say were even remotely unique. I’m talking about the type of skills that people will call you for when they can’t do it themselves. Kind of like when your air conditioner goes out during the summer heat wave and you’re gladly making lunch for the AC repairman who promised to arrive by lunchtime. You might even have a case of cold beer to give him as a token of your appreciation once he’s finished. Working in a corporate “niche” role does little to prepare us for the time when we choose to do what we really want to do.
Many times, we’re lulled into a sense of comfort and contentment as we sink further and further into the corporate trap of unsubstantiated self-worth. Many times, we feel like we’re indispensable in our role and that we could never be replaced. The reality is that if Friday were to be our last day, come Monday morning someone new would occupy our cubicle and no one would really notice.
Maybe we’re being held back from the type of professional development we really need in order to become well-rounded. Maybe the companies we work for are intentionally keeping us pigeon-holed in our roles for fear we might ask for more money. Maybe the company doesn’t want us to feel secure in the fact we have choices beyond the completion of our daily tasks. Maybe we need to take it upon ourselves to seek out the advice, training and skills needed to feel secure and not be at the mercy of some boss or company.
Today, after working as an entrepreneur for several years, I find myself tweaking the web site I designed, creating a promotional video from scratch, working on a graphic art project and creating a new mass email campaign. These are all functions that if asked to perform while I served in Corporate America, I would most likely have feigned an illness and called in sick. It took me over a half of a century to realize that if I don’t take an active role in my skills development, no one else really cares. So as we’re toiling at that 9 to 5, maybe we should be thinking a bit more about what we can do from 5 to 9.