Pillar 4: Stagnant skills is career death
OK, Navigators, here it is – the pillar I’ve been hinting to you about – Pillar 4.
Let me paint the backstory – I had found THE job I wanted. Or so it seemed to me at the time. It was awesome. It was amazing. I worked internationally. I had challenging problems every single day, but I mostly had some kind of work-life balance going on.
And … I stopped getting certs. And I just focused on one thing for a few weeks. Then another. I made no reasonable progress during this time, however. Then I sorta just stopped doing advancement of myself and my skills altogether. And as well, I started getting lazy at work. Not feet-up YouTube all day lazy, but not as crisp. Started missing deadlines. As I look back now, I KNEW it was time to bounce, but my sexy oil and gas job in 2014 was more money than I’d ever made. I bled the colors of my company and would be the ‘hero’ every chance I got when I would be texted in the middle of the night by overseas folks.
Here’s the funny thing – as I started to spiral, and I DID start to spiral I could have EASILY pulled myself out of it. What it would have been was to start saying NO and start investing in myself. But I felt desperation set in. If you are feeling the desperate throes of ‘I’m about to get canned’ focus on building up ONE skill alone – Interviewing skills. I have rarely seen someone pull out of a nosedive once they’ve lost favor. Just make sure you validate your ‘I’m about to get canned’ feelings are a real thing and not just unfounded feelings of insecurity. We will talk about these in later posts.
As I said, I was in a spiral. My work was less than it should have been. My engagement was lacking, and if anything, I was beginning to try and sabotage parts of my leadership (see pillar 1). Subconsciously, of course, and only now can I fully realize this. I was disenfranchised and upset at my pride being injured as I was ‘replaced’. Instead of asking further questions, and finding out there was a significant political issue impacting our brand in Israel, I just began to internally rage. And it was a systematic politics issue I’d have never touched – like ‘politics’ political, not office politics.
Fast forward a few months and I had a horrible on-call rotation. The 30-thousand foot viewpoint is that some Senior VP I had never known to exist was trying to call an office we were operating in stealth on our landlines. And it failed. So he had to use his cell phone to call resulting in a large bill.
Here’s the thing about a message that gets propagated from the C-Level down to an individual contributor: Every layer adds their own particular layer of paranoia and ‘spin’ to the message. So, a message that traveled down a few layers of management. I know the SVP that it came from, and he wasn’t a terrible person. I imagine in the game of ‘telephone’ it changed from ‘What the hell? Wonder why this phone can’t call that number – secretary can you call the IT people??’ and became ‘ZOMG! STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW. GET INTO THE OFFICE AND FIX IT. DO IT! DO IT NOW!’
My boss wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t a particularly great manager for me either. Many times, my leadership has been phenomenal at air cover from messages from above. Right now, my current boss has been fantastic on this. But as I retrospectively look backward, I had not done him any favors with my work. I was consistently a pain in the butt and this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I had not been teaming well with him and making the two of us look good. Because here’s the universal truth:
When you look bad, your boss looks bad.
As the message tends to get more severe and extreme as it moves from C-Level folks to the average workers it became a SEVERE AND INTENSE problem. So much so that my boss called me during the dinner I was at on my anniversary. And like a good lemming, I answered, ended dinner and went into the office.
What would I do today? I would say ‘shoot’, let me get back to you tomorrow with a resolution. But as I was so freaked out, I started panicking and called long distance providers and all sorts of other people who were legitimately NOT MY PROBLEM. I took on the entire problem and then much, much more. I compounded the issue by not having good boundaries. Because I was living in fear of the ax falling.
Having a select number of skills and procedures running on auto-pilot gives me that peace of mind. The complete irony of this peace of mind is that I’m a better employee. I keep my skills up so that I can walk away at any time. The irony is that once I’ve had that freedom, I’m not going to lose it again so I always have my skills increasing and evolving from old-n-janky to new-n-swanky.
To put the final nail in the coffin of this concept, let’s talk Niche-markets for a second. My viewpoint is that you can exploit a Niche for maybe 5 years. Maybe. So – if you were a data processes implementer for dairy farms, you might have a cool niche. But if you don’t evolve with technology, data process implementation 2.0 (I’m just making these up, BTW) will eat away your opportunities. And you will be left out alone.
Left to my own ‘initial devices’ when I joined the IT workforce in 1999, I would be the master of all things “Fax over IP”.
Which you now do on your smartphone.
Travel down the road with us and we’ll get you the mindset and skills to compete and succeed in this industry!
Sidebar: the skills I’m currently working on:
NSX-T, AWS, and Ansible.