Career Advice After 40 Years In The Game

I quit my in December of 2018.

Well, technically I retired, but it is still quitting. After 40 years of learning and growing within the context of my job, I am choosing to do that on my own now. On my own schedule, and choosing which assignments I want to do, and when I will do them.

When I was 28, I told my boss that my plan was to be on my own by the time I was 40, doing the work I wanted to do. I only missed that goal by 24 years.

I could give you the list of reasons why, but that is not the point of this post.

Here are a few things that almost derailed me, and hope these lessons help you.

I’m never going to retire. I’ll never reach that dream role.

I’ve said this many times. probably most recently during the 2007-2008 market crash.  I used to project the growth of my 401k and set a corresponding estimate of when I would retire, and that crash blew it all up. But if I believed my statement, I would have stopped contributing to the 401k and had more money to spend. The statement was not one of intent, but of frustration. My true north was still to be in charge of my own schedule of work. There were other times when I probably listened to closely to myself and dismissed my eligibility for other roles.  Lesson – be careful of what you say to yourself.

I don’t know if I can work for the new boss

Once during a string of organizational change announcements, my team was informed of a new boss we would have in six weeks. None of us were receptive to the idea, and we commiserated about how this would work, and why the leadership did not see that this is a potentially disastrous decision. My thoughts at the time included “a lot can happen in six weeks”. By the time that period was over, a different structure and different leader were announced.  Lesson – Don’t worry about things that haven’t happened yet.

I don’t agree with that performance rating

In engineering I learned that processes all have variability, and we try to minimize variability through design. As humans, we all have variable performance. Most of us cannot consistently block out all that is going on in our lives and be consistently high performers at work. It is an unrealistic expectation that you can do so. Having said that, I have seen consistently high performers, but they seem to sacrifice something else – perhaps their health or their relationships. Lesson – Expect the best from yourself and forgive yourself when you don’t quite get there from time to time. If you feel wronged, then it might be a sign it is time to move on.

Why don’t they see me the way I see myself?

There are a couple of times in my career where I was removed from one role and placed in another. In one case, my boss said, “you have a target on your back if you stay in that role, and I can’t let that happen”. I was convinced I could deliver what was needed but had the opportunity to do so taken away. I was replaced by someone who, 18 months later, had made little to no progress on the work. But the move put me in a position to excel in a different area. I know that not everyone works in a large enough organization to make this possible. And I know that not everyone trusts their leaders. If you don’t then maybe you aren’t working in the right place to begin with. Lesson – trust that those outside yourself have a good view of your skills and your weaknesses and listen to them.

You might have examples like this in your career. I suggest you step back and see what you’ve learned and reevaluate your goals. Don’t just work harder (whatever that means) but think about the long-term and if your current career situation is helping you achieve those goals – then make the necessary adjustments.