I started with this article on Stanford’s MBA site about “the secret to finding long-term career satisfaction” (noble goal, right?) and was instantly turned off because it’s written by a career coach/consultant, which seems like maybe it’s a snake oil profession. But hey, I pressed onward — gotta embrace those new viewpoints — and it made some good points, specifically this one:
“Incremental efforts add up,” says Melcher. “You don’t have to do a big dramatic thing to make progress. What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. Like compound interest, if you make steady progress of your goals, you can get somewhere.” He says to take an activity or a goal, divide it into its component parts, then spend 20 minutes a day or less working on it. “I would hold that everybody has 20 minutes. I had 20 minutes today where I didn’t really need to look on social media or check the New York Times. I could have made some small effort toward something.”
Yep. Now let’s start to get real.
Employee tenure is about 48 months right now in North America for jobs across multiple industries. If you enter a place tomorrow, you’ll probably be gone before today in 2022. That’s just based on your decision-making and potential moves — remember that companies have no baseline for being loyal to you either, and you can get dropped at a moment’s notice if revenue erodes.
Let’s say you start working at 22 and need to work to 76 to get it really popping in retirement. White-collar-wise, that’s what, 54 years? Divide by 48 months, or four years. You’ll probably have to do the career shift dance about 12–13 times. That feels high, right? It’s not. I’m 37 and I’ve probably already done it six to eight times. I’m sure I’ll hit 12.
The health argument
We often treat our careers like we do our health — until there’s a problem (cancer or layoff, etc.), we kinda don’t even think about it that much. This is folly. That’s where the 20 minutes comes in above. I know everyone likes to say how slammed they are and they can’t breathe all day, but everyone has 20 minutes. It’s there. You can find it. Scroll through Instagram less, naw mean? Don’t wait on line at Starbucks.
In those 20 minutes a day, here’s what you can do:
- Email old colleagues
- Sign up for a Saturday morning yoga deal
- Go downstairs to a hotel bar if you’re traveling
- Write something on Medium about a passion of yours
All these things can be done in about 20–30 minutes and they all put you in spots to have conversations or advance relationships to build out your career. That way, when the shit does hit the fan, you will be more prepared for it.
The pipeline concept
Any good sales guy is like “These are in the bag, I’m working these, these need to be brought along, etc.”
Jobs/careers are the same way. You’ll burn out at some places, flame out at others, and be a victim of terrible management at a third. We’ve all been down these different roads.
So view your career as a pipeline. What’s next? What’s three steps out? Who do you need to get in the orbit of to make the “three steps out” one happen?
When you’re freelance and money can ebb/flow, you literally need to think about this stuff every single day, if not every hour. I do. I try to pipeline everything, including places I’d be interested in maybe going full-time at some point. Then figure out how to get in front of those people that could make that a reality. Build out the relationships, 20 minutes at a time. Make that pipeline so that when a crisis hits, you’ve got Plans A through F ready to roll.
It doesn’t take that much time, honestly — 20 mins/day, as noted. And even though there is always something more urgent that might come up, and the great struggle of time management is urgency vs. importance, remember: this stuff is important, so set aside the time for it.