What’s your first reaction? It will probably vary depending on a few factors.
- How high profile is your work or job,
- how high profile are you as an individual
- what else is happening in your life,
- what other things are you doing outside of work.
- Have you ever had to cope with the question
There will be others, but those will definitely be large contributing factors as to how you answer the question. I know there will be people out there who have had to deal with this question, who are still dealing with it and those that have not, so depending on that this article will either be irrelevant or perhaps a sage piece of understanding for a potential future state or you will be sat there living every word.
I have been high profile over the years, by that I don’t mean some big cheese or something conceited, I mean I have always had opinions and been vocal about them, I have always been busy on Twitter and LinkedIn, worked in sectors or companies like Spotify that have been in demand and so have stayed visible. I have enjoyed doing it. I have always taken a lot of pride in the companies I worked for and the people I worked with in those companies. I have enjoyed the wins, been excited seeing my colleagues do well and progress, it’s a buzz.
So what happens when that stops and you no longer have the big job in the big company?
What happens when the invites stop.
What happens when the journalists stop calling because you don’t ‘represent a company’
What happens when all that experience you have built up is no longer useful in the job market.
What happens when 25 years of being high profile does not get you an interview anymore, too old, too expensive.
There will be many people out there who have been or are going through it right now. It’s tough, isolating, pretty soul destroying. Yes there are people worse off and having it harder, but that does not diminish your own challenges.
Well I will tell you what happens, you have to make your own story, you have to stop relying on your company, your profile, your job. I have so much advice for people, I can’t fit it in here but I am going to tell you my experience as succinctly as possible. This has been my roadmap and here’s my advice.
- Help others and ask nothing. When things feel a little dark, helping others gives so much positivity to the system. I offered my LinkedIn network my time for advice about any topic. I filled 70+ meetings, it felt great and I hope helped some people. I continue to do it now, two tomorrow in fact.
- Stay visible and don’t be afraid to post and comment and write if you feel that way inclined, keep talking, keep meeting. Enjoy having an independent voice.
- Find People, companies, charities that do value your experience and will embrace your knowledge, it may be consulting, it maybe pro bono but get that inspiration going again.
- Dedicate time to causes you care about, do more of the stuff you could not before. I have enjoyed working with people trying to change advertising for the better and it feels good to do.
- Talk to people who have left the industry or are doing exciting things around it. I have been inspired by people who are not fixated with our industry and have done their own thing. It might be setting up a Gin company (Kirstine) or finding new ways to recruit (Kate) or created start ups and travelled the world (Andy) or try to change the world (Seyi / Spencer) or helping others (Shereen) They are not defined by what they used to do, but what they do.
- If you can then create something for yourself. Even setting up a company so as to act as a consultant feels empowering. I purposely set up bertozzi49 to remind me of the year of my life that my career changed for ever. I have since set up a second business with a friend that is launching in the Autumn in the automotive sector and it’s been a while since I have felt such pride. Not everyone will set a business up, but if you have an idea, go for it. I had been toying with this idea but until I spoke to Andy Hart who said ‘just go and fucking talk to this guy’ I was procrastinating, so I took his advice and here we are.
- Even though I am doing a number of amazing things right now, I still dread the ‘what do you do question’ because I don’t have a quick answer and I know I don’t have time to explain that I do lots of things and I can’t just say ‘I am VP Spotify EMEA’. This is the definition stage, this is the what am I worth stage. It’s the toughest one, a few people say to me ‘we are waiting to see your next big job’. It makes me wince. The reason being, that’s not the path anymore. It’s not the definition of me anymore. It might be, but it’s not where I am aiming. It’s taken me 8 months to understand that by doing other things, by taking a break, by not being in the day to day I am someone else. I am now an entrepreneur, I am now a consultant (currently for the amazing Whalar), I am now a Board advisor for a really hot Music NFT platform being launched soon and so on. I am the sum of all I have done and I am working on all the new things I am going to do. Sorry, no simple ‘this is what I do’
So a message to those who are out there struggling right now, it is vital you take your own control, In the time it has taken me to start two businesses, become advisor to two amazing companies, to consult for 4 businesses I have had 3 meaningful job conversations in 8 months…3. It is vital that you create your own next steps and make your own future. You can’t allow the industry to define you. Spend some time thinking about what and who you are, what you have done, not who you work for, how many people work for you, what company it is, come up with a new answer to the ‘what do you do’.
And a message to everyone who currently does not have to answer my original question because you have a great job and the world is great. Remember you will be judged by how you act with someone in times of trouble, not when things are great. Take a second to think about how you could help a colleague, call them, intro them, meet for lunch, whatever. If they are consulting and need an hour of your time, give it to them. Journalists, go talk to those not working for big orgs, they are much more likely to talk freely about the industry, get them on some panels and help keep their names visible. This has been a tough year for many, as an industry we can all support each other.
I would like to say Thanks to all of those people who have been unrelenting in staying in touch, being helpful, encouraging even as things went up and down. I want to wish all those I have spoken to over the last few months, even those I was meant to be helping. Thank you for the time you have given up.
Good luck everyone. There is so much out there to do, lets do it.