Saturday, June 19, 2010

Take two!

If you've read my past blogs, you know that if you ask me what I do for a living, I might stand there tongue-tied. Because I do a lot of things. But for much of the last 15 years, except for a stint in the early 2000s managing a call center, there have been two main ones. I generally make about half of my living writing for people and half as a public speaker.

Which got me thinking about the whole career identity thing that most of us have. The majority of us are encouraged to be X, and be a good X – whatever X is. Often, we define our sense of self around what we "do," as opposed to who we are. Like my parents, who had a typical Fred-Flintstone-and-Wilma relationship where he had his career in engineering and academia, and she was a homemaker.

I had a couple of X's in my career too. First was a technical career that took my wife and I all over the United States, and later a management career leading call center and software development teams. I did well in those fields, even winning awards and serving on government advisory committees, but truth be known, I can't look back on those days as a time where I couldn't wait for Monday morning.

So one of the best things that ever happened to me was in late 1994, when word got around that layoffs were coming at the big software firm I was at. I went to the CEO, said, "Ooooh, me, me, me, pick me!", and left with a one-year consulting retainer – as well as the knowledge that from then on, I would have to eat what I catch. Along with the discovery that, for the first time in my life, Mondays were something to really look forward to.

But that wasn't the best year of my life. 1996 was. The year that my consulting retainer ended and all my other work ground to a halt for almost six months. Was that scary? Surprisingly, not as much as I thought. Suddenly I had time to really think, and started spending afternoons at the Glenwood Pines enjoying a Pinesburger, taking in a great view of the lake, and starting to sketch out a series of notes for what I really wanted to do.

It turned out there were lots of things I wanted to do, including writing for people and training. Some of those notes eventually became my next book Smile Training Isn't Enough, as well as laying the groundwork for my first training program. And more important, I started making connections with other people. By the time 1996 ended, I had earned enough to get by from more than a dozen different things – and started to get the sense that while I no longer had a career doing X, I could, in fact, learn to fish.

Now fast forward 15 years later. Those notes at the Pines eventually became the basis of nearly everything I do today, and I enjoy every minute of it. And as I look around me, a lot of other successful self-employed people I know are also "ands": writers *and* speaking coaches, therapists *and* professional photographers, etcetera. They aren't hung up on being just one flavor, and neither am I. Which leads me to the lesson I want to leave with each of you from this blog:

Stop thinking of yourself as someone who only does X. God gave you 168 hours every week, and you can spend them however you wish. And life is too short not to start going after all those little "x"s you've always wanted to do. Perhaps they will turn into a career – or, as in my case, more than one of them. Take two, or three, or five of them if you wish. Move toward the things that really give you pleasure, invest your time in them, and great things will happen. Good luck!


Richard Bradley said...

Excellent advice, Rich. I often feel that with my own many talents (hee, hee!) I run the risk of being a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none kind of guy. But the world is spinning so fast now that I think we will need more Renaissance men like us in the future. Knowing one thing well just won't cut it much longer, IMHO.

Rich Gallagher said...

Amen, Richard. I like the concept of "master of *all*." And someone with your talents certainly deserves to try new things. Thanks!

Kurt said...

Hey Rich, been a long time, eh?
Your post only provided more fuel for the fire that is always burning in the back of my mind. It's often challenging to be the quick change artist, flipping through all of the various hats that we wear in both business and personal settings, but I know from my perspective that there's nothing that I would willingly choose NOT to do. The greater challenge is to fit those many roles into something that provides both financial security and personal satisfaction. Thanks for setting the example that it CAN be done!

Rich Gallagher said...

Hi Kurt - you're right, long time no see - hope all is well! And good luck with your own path toward being a "Renaissance man."