How to avoid getting fired by George Clooney

Reading time: 3 minutes and 53 seconds
Part 3 of the 15 Secrets to Career Success in the 21st Century.

Career Secret 7: Stay in Control (and avoid George)

Up in the Air won a host of Oscars for its potrayal of corporate life in the 21st Century.  George Clooney plays a corporate highway man, jetting around the US with the mission of “downsizing” companies.

The “downsized” employees react with shock, horror and helplessness.

In the 21st Century world of work, there is no such thing as a job for life.  Assuming that having a job gives you security is a dangerous thing to do.  It can lead to complacency and shutting off great opportunities.

The truth is you always have many choices about how to make a living. You could take full-time employment in various sectors (corporate, government, non-profit, academia),  contract, free-lance, be an entrepreneur, volunteer, sit on a board, and sell homemade handicrafts at fairs.

To avoid George Clooney arriving at your office and giving you that speech, it pays to make sure you stay in control of your career and keep making choices.

You can stay in control:

By regularly taking time to set and check in with your career vision and goals, you can have a plan that looks beyond your current work.

By keeping up your skills and developing new transferable ones – you will open more options for the future.

Through professional networking  and building out your contacts  - you can lay the foundations for the next steps of the career journey.

In the 21st Century nothing is certain, except that you always have a choice.

Secret 8: Set your career vision

career coaching, career change, careershift, find work you love, successful life, well rounded life

What's your career vision?

There was a recent story about a man who bought a boat in London and wanted to sail it back to his home in the South West of England.  He didn’t have a map or any navigation system.  He assumed that if he set off and kept the land to his right, he’d get there eventually.  He ended up sailing three times around the Isle of Sheepey in the River Thames before running out of fuel and giving up.

He had no vision, no plan, no map and no compass.  He didn’t think ahead.

Without a career vision and a clear plan, our careers can end up going round and round in circles.

Setting a vision is about creating the long term direction for your 21st Century Career.  A vision is like your guiding star in the sky – it tell us the general direction we need to head in over time.  It also helps you make important short term choices.

Career visions should be big, juicy, motivating and challenging.  They should stretch you and light a fire in you every time you think about them.

Some examples of career visions might be:

  • To become known as one of the world’s best project managers, work with top organisations to help them successfully complete projects and also lecture and write about the subject
  • To become a chief technology officer helping innovative companies to develop technology that can create a sustainable future for the planet
  • To lead a non-profit that campaigns for the equality of employment rights for everyone and changes the face of the modern workforce
  • To build a company that bakes the tastiest cupcakes in the world and delights its customers with the coolest branding in the marketplace
  • To have a successful and lucrative career in finance that allows my to be financially independent by 40

Creating a career vision requires thought and time.  You’ll need to ask yourself some serious questions about what work means to you and what you want to get out of it.

You’ll need to look into the future and visualise how you’d like your life to look in 10 or 20 years time – how will you use your time and talent.

As you develop answers, they’ll need to feel authentic and in tune with your values.

Most importantly, the vision has to be something that is exciting.  It will need to get you out of bed on a cold Monday morning at 5am, get you through the late night with the boss breathing down your neck, get you through the month with no sales.

Secret 9: Write your career story every day

career coaching, career counselling, find work you love, meaningful work, successful life, remarkable life

Write your career story

In the 21st Century, you write your career story every day.  You are a walking resume.

Every action you take and every choice you make at work adds to your professional experience and skills. Future career success is determined by what you do every day.

This point is reinforced by Reid Hoffman, CEO of Linkedin:

“I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not. . . . Average job length is two to four years. That makes you a small business. . . . You are the entrepreneur of your own small business. How do you get to your next gig? How do you do your career progression? All these things now fall on the individual shoulders.”

This new career paradigm requires more flexibility, the ability to change course quickly and take new opportunities as they arise.

To do this there are two key elements:

1)   Develop transferable skills

Transferable skills are the skills that are needed to be successful in almost any work. They include turning up on time, communicating effectively, learning to influence others, writing persuasively, delegating, managing others, creating a vision for a project and many others.

Being able to demostrate these skills is the key to jumping into the next exciting role in a career journey.

Being able to execute these skills will allow you to be successful in that role.

You can deliberately plan to develop these skills and this will help you to write your work story.

2)   Write your work story

Our work story is the combination of all our career experiences. We summarize these and create a narrative that tells the world who we are – often through a CV and in an interview.

Our work story tells the reader or listener about the trajectory of our career – it explains why all our experiences to date make us the right employee, consultant, freelancer for the job.  The story demonstrates our key skills through a series of successful experiences using those skills.

Remembering that you are writing your career story every day can help to make good choices that expand our skill base, create another great example of success and develop the stream of our career narrative.

Secret 10: Collect People

No man is an Island”  John Donne

career coaching, career counselling, find work you love, successful life

Who are you connected to?

If you’re planning to become a holy person, live in a cave and commune with god, you can skip this secret.

For those of us who measure success on this temporal plane, everything we do relies on other people for success. People hire us, work for us, work with us, buy from us, sell to us, inspire us, collaborate with us,  recommend us, connect us.

More than 50% of all new jobs come through networking and informal connections rather than direct advertising.

Most 21st Century entrepreneurs use affiliate marketing and collaborations to build businesses that transcend their size as one man operations.

Getting a project done can become much easier if we can call on the right people to help think it through and make things happen.


Even more important is that our networks have networks too. If you have a network of 100 people, who each have networks of 100 people, you are connected to 10,000 people.  That is a lot of people to help you succeed in your career journey.

Collecting the right people is a key to career success.

For this reason, we should become people collectors and develop a network of great people.  So what makes a good network?

A good network needs a wide variety of different people who can fill different roles.  In my case, I think about people who are supporters (they energize me), inspirers (they help me create new ideas), advocates (people who actively champion me), connectors (those who have great networks and are prepared to share), mentors (wise folks who have trodden my path and can guide me).

The key in filling out your network is to fill it with people you like and have a natural affinity and connection with.  If you’ve ever tried to build a relationship with someone you don’t get on with, you’ll know that this seldom seems to work.

I think of a personal network a bit like an archery board.  As the level of intimacy and frequency of connection with a person decreases, you tend to have more of those people in your network.  You may only have 1 or 2 people in your absolute trusted inner circle who you speak with almost every day.  Yet you may have a broad network of hundreds of great people who you are Linked In to, and maybe connect only every couple of years.

In the 21st Century we can use technology to keep track of our networks. We can use social networks (and Linked In is great).  We have the tools to connect with and meet anyone across the globe – we can email, IM, Skype, video conference and telephone.

The only limit to building a 21st Century network is your imagination in what is possible.  So get collecting and reap the benefits.

Photo credit: Kennymatic, VestmanAli Brohl

15 Secrets to Thriving in the 21st Century Workplace –Part 1

Reading Time: 3 minutes 12 seconds

career coaching, career consulting, find work you love, careershifters

21st Century Office?

The world of work has changed beyond all recognition in the 21st Century – learn how to survive and thrive in the new world of workclick here to subscribe and get  every instalment delivered to your inbox.

1. You get out of work what you put in to work

I have a friend, let’s call him Stan.  Stan had been at the same employer for 12 years, in the marketing team.  Whenever I met Stan, this is what I’d hear:

Those b@st@rds don’t appreciate me, they work me so hard and I sweat blood for them.  Every year, they give me a terrible performance review, no bonus and a rubbish payrise.  They pass me over for promotion.  It makes me sick, I just don’t care any more.

Stan was notorious in his office for his legendary procrastination skills.  He spent all day complaining to anyone who didn’t manage to avoid him.

His nickname was Levi, because he was always out the door at 5.01.

Stan had told me many times that he didn’t care and wasn’t prepared to work his fingers to the bone for no gratitude in return.  He had given up.

When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, Stan’s employer let him go.

Stan was mystified, angry, indignant and talked about suing.  Of course he didn’t.

No-one else at his office was surprised.  They saw it coming a mile off.

Stan walked straight into Secret Number 1 – you get out of work what you put in to work.

He was barely in the office and when he was he did nothing productive.  He distracted other team members with his negative attitude. In return, Stan got poor performance reviews.  In fact he’d been on three performance plans over his career.

He was passed over for promotion because he gave out the signals that he couldn’t care less.

However you make a living, your career will have ups and downs. There will be times when you are flat out and giving everything and calmer fallow periods.  Learning to make this choice consciously and being aware that you will get back what you put is key to managing this flow.

Please, don’t be a Stan.

2. You have to take ownership of your career

career coaching, career counselling, new career, work you love

Suited and booted

Picture me as a tender 21 year-old dressed in my three-piece pinstripe suit with natty pink shirt back in the mid-1990s.

I’m striding into my shiny corporate office for the first day of world domination.

I’d arrived – from now on my benevolent employers would shower me with money, support, training and appreciation.

All I had to do was show up and collect the daily kudos.

I deluded myself that it was in my firm’s interest to take care of me, promote me and sky-rocket my career for me.  I barely put in any effort for the first year.

When it came to review time, I showed up expecting a pat on the head, a bone for being a good boy and a dazzling review.

My bubble popped.  It seemed that I was somewhere below half-way down my peer group and my managers were questioning my attitude.

It slowly dawned on me that I and only I really cared at all about what happened in my career.  It was my responsibility to set the direction, ask for the good projects, demand the training I needed, find the right mentor, look for ways to use my strengths and skills.

If I didn’t do it, these things simply wouldn’t happen.

You have to take ownership of your career – no-one is going to hand success and career satisfaction to you on a plate.

3. Everyone should learn how to make money independently

This lesson hit home to me the day I got my first cheque from a client after starting Less Ordinary Living.

Ten years of sucking at the corporate teat had brainwashed me into believing that the only way I could possibly make money was through steady employment.

Without a job I felt as vulnerable as a baby seal wandering through an Eskimo village.  When I quit my job, I really did see myself “living in a van by the river” as Pam Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation eloquently puts it.

It took a week or two to start finding clients and in that period, I was close to running back to the corporate edifice and begging forgiveness.  The prodigal son, on a rapid return visit.

Yet when the work started to come and I took that first cheque to the bank, something amazing happened.  I felt liberated.

I actually managed to make some cash, under my own steam, without anyone else’s benevolence.

This feeling is not to be underestimated.   It symbolises that you have the ability to fend for yourself.  I almost felt primal – like a prehistoric man bringing back the first woolly mammoth to the cave.

I’d recommend that everyone tries making some money independently.  Figure out something you are good and passionate about and find a way to make a little bit of money from it.

Sell a service (doing someone’s garden, being a handy man, helping someone write their CV, wallpapering, painting, anything really) or something you’ve made (at a local fair, on ebay, through a website you made).

Once you’ve done this, you’ll realise that having a job is not the only way – even if you never choose to freelance or be an entrepreneur, you’ll know more about how to make ends meet in the worse case scenario.

You’ll take away some of the doomsday fear of redundancy and see that you have more choices than you might appreciate for making a living in the 21st Century.

A great way to do this would be the start a small business for $100 in 28 days program from Chris Guillebeau

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on these secrets and what you’ve learned about the 21st Century workplace.

Photo credit: jhderojas , Laverrue