Michael's Happenings

Having the Wrong Body

As I’m heading into my mid-40s, I’m starting to realise that the prospect of a “normal” career is now behind me. I’ve given up the option to climb the corporate ladder–not that I’d want to–so the prospect of having a healthy savings account when I retire is getting less and less likely. I’m still optimistic we’ll have success at some point, but working without a net is an ongoing risk. (Alan Downie, BugHerd)

Apart from almost four years of my career, I’ve done my own thing at work for almost 25 years. I spent the first three years at one of New Zealand’s largest corporates, and also worked remotely for a U.S.-based startup for nine months in 2006 to 2007. But the bulk of my career has been as an independent consultant/analyst/researcher/freelancer, cultivating client opportunities, writing books and reports, and working on projects with clients around the world. While that has sometimes involved travelling the world, I have spent the vast majority of my working life in my home office.

Several months ago I applied for a job in the city. My wife had found a job opening that seemed perfectly aligned with the work I have been doing and want to do more of. I felt the job description had been written just for me. While it involved giving away doing my own thing and driving into the city every day–an approach to work I haven’t done for more than 20 years–I jumped at the opportunity. I submitted my resume with a persuasive cover letter, won an initial interview by phone, and then a second at a coffee shop in the city.

But someone else won the position. I was knocked out because I failed two requirements that had been excluded from the job ad: I hadn’t worked in a corporate environment for a long time, and I had never worked for a Big 4 consulting firm (even though, on the other hand, I count one of the Big 4 among my clients).

This got me thinking at the time and explains why Alan’s comment deeply resonated with me this week. My “weird” career, filled with opportunities I have relished, has made me a misfit for a corporate role. I have optimised for a particular type of work, and that optimisation has been very different from a corporate warrior. The skills and abilities of running a single-person business, finding and cultivating clients, making everything work all the time, and working in an ever-changing project-based environment is too different from the “normal” corporate trajectory.

Athletes optimise their body for the unique demands of their chosen sport. A marathon runner develops a body that’s different to a sprinter. Likewise a gymnast and a sumo wrestler. A swimmer and a cyclist. A shotput thrower and a high jumper. A build-a-business entrepreneur and a be-the-business freelancer. A corporate warrior and the “working without a net” entrepreneur worrier.

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1 reply »

  1. That resonates with me Michael. Many times corporate roles say they look for ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘self starters’ but they don’t really mean it. I do expect things will get better as companies resource in more fluid ways, using contractors and freelancers more in the mix.