How to avoid getting fired by George Clooney

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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

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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

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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

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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

Related posts:

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


  1. Phil
    May 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    How do you stay in control and manage your career? What is your career vision? How do you write your career story and what are the next chapters? How do you manage your network and find the right people to help your career journey? Please leave a comment and share.

  2. May 18, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Well said Phil!

    One of the career attitudes I value the most is being proactive, instead of reactive. Having a plan and doing things to achieve it, instead of waiting for things to change around you so you can try to adapt. When you can be proactive, you can fire George Clooney and not the other way around.
    .-= Eduard @ People Skills Decoded´s last blog ..Empathy vs. sympathy: the big distinction =-.

  3. May 18, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow, your enthusiasm for what you do really shines through in this post, Phil. Well done!

    The only thing I would say that’s a little different, from my own past history, is that my vision doesn’t need to be big. In fact, it’s better if my vision unfolds a little bit at a time, and I follow my curiosity each day and stay flexible. That has led me to places in my career I never expected. But that’s just me.

    Btw, I loved “Up In The Air.” What a complex story. And if I had to be downsized…well, George Clooney…you know?
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: Creative Chick Meets Warrior Woman Edition =-.

  4. May 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Great secrets Phil, especially #7 and #10. Folks would fear downsizing less if they felt more powerful to begin with. I’ve survived many layoffs and I’ve been laid off — the fear becomes so palpable, you can hear it rumbling down the hallways.

    Companies appear to intentionally leak upcoming layoffs to keep the fear alive.

    Best to keep your options open and continuously expand your streams of income. If one options closes, it doesn’t matter because you’ve got others.

    Thanks! G.
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..I’ll Always Love You =-.

  5. May 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    Very well done. Right now a big one for me is “people connecting.” I am building a dedicated core that are committed to the same vision, a mastermind alliance. The archery board metaphor is perfect. I have 2 people I count in there. Essentially I rely on them to continue to branch out to a broader network and execute what I am not capable of doing on my own. We are still building these relationships.

    I’m also putting “Up in the Air” into my Netflix today!
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..May is Meditation Month =-.

  6. May 19, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Phil, I can’t watch the trailer because I haven’t seen the movie yet but I used to fly 100,000 miles a year (3 years in a row!) east to west coast and other places and only on American (George’s airline, how wonderful ;) )! Everything you say about career tracking is true…..Attitude and the steps you mention here can set you apart and while no one knows or can be guaranteed a job (and it’s good as it keeps us on our toes), it will make a huge difference on how we are rated and ranked among others (and how we view our own success)……

  7. May 19, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    Oh and I wanted to mention that this makes a very nice coaching/mentoring profile in case you ever have an opportunity to help someone 1:1….!!

  8. Phil
    May 19, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    @Farnoosh – thanks for your great comments and feedback. First, Up in the Air is a great movie and you’ll love it as a former road warrior. I put together these secrets based on many years of coaching and mentoring professionals to find successful careers (and well rounded lives) so appreciate your kudos in spotting that. You’re right to say that success is an attitude – I truly believe that thinking differently and clearly is the first step to acting differently and making a difference…

    @Rob – great that you are using your network so effectively. The beauty is that it is collaborative and mutually beneficial to work with those at the center of the board. You get the benefit of a range of skills, the extra contacts and it is just more fun to share with others. Keep up the great work, sir!

    @Giulietta – exactly spot on! Keeping our options open professionally is vital now – it keeps the control and choice in our own hands, rather than giving it away. Building skills, network and having a vision are good ways to keep options open and choose our success.

    @Patty – thanks for your perspective. I guess I’m a big vision kinda person and find them empowering. Ultimately everyone owns their own vision and it needs to motivate you. It sounds like your vision is to stay open to possibility, curiosity and enjoy every day to the max. A pretty empowering approach to life – great work.

    @Eduard – Career management and being proactive is vital to keep the choices and control in your hands. Secret 1 was that you get out what you put in and it resonates through all of these other secrets. Thanks for sharing!

  9. May 20, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Very discipline post as usual. At the moment I am working on an ebook, while maintaining a good social network in social media. Excellent post.

  10. May 20, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Like Patty, I have nothing against being downsized by George Clooney.

    Seriously, there’s so much practical wisdom in your post, as always. What resonates the most for me is Collect People. I think that there is a growing trend in this direction — collecting and connecting — to resist is futile and fruitless.

  11. May 21, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    I watched the trailer on your post. It sure sounds like a great movie, something I would watch. Thanks for the recommendation!

    I remember the term that my previous company used to “soften” the blow. The management does not call it “downsizing” but “rightsizing”. I enjoyed your tip on building transferable skills!!
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Timeline Therapy Story: A Journey Into Wisdom =-.

  12. Phil
    May 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    @Baker – I know you keep very busy and stay ahead of the pack – keep up the good work.

    @Belinda – I believe in connecting – there are so many brilliant and inspiring people out there waiting to be found. Thanks for the comment.

    @Evelyn – Rightsizing is another lovely piece of management speak, thanks for sharing it. Often, 18 months later, the same company is rightsizing in the opposite direction which is pretty shortsighted. Keep up your great work, and thanks for the comment.

  13. May 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    A very comprehensive write up Phil, this is bordering on ebook potential. A know a lot of women that would loved to be fired by George Clooney.

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