When I started writing these posts back in the summertime, I had no idea where they’d end up. I also had no idea how they’d end up changing me.
The original idea for these stories – stories about the job search for older workers – first came to me a couple of years ago, when I was working in a different job. At the time, my job didn’t leave me the latitude to speak to some key issues, so I left it alone.
My employment situation has changed since then – a few times, actually. And that’s what I want to focus on for my final post in this series.
As I reflect on what I’ve written these past 12 weeks, and on the thoughtful, heartfelt responses that so many people have shared, I’m struck by a couple of things:
- What inspired me initially was actually a sense of grief over the loss of a long-held job. That job – which I’d held for five years, in an organization I’d served for more than twice that length of time in total – had shaped me and sustained me in a thousand different ways.
From the friends I made, to the policy areas I learned, to the life lessons it offered, it was a defining role in my career – in every sense of the word. Although I landed a new role very shortly after that one ended, I’ve never truly given myself permission to unpack all of the emotions it raised. These stories – and the reactions to them – have given me a belated opportunity to do that.
- As an older worker, I have to be aware of both my own biases and those that other people may hold toward me and people like me. Just this week, while walking to work, I ran into someone who was part of an interview panel I met earlier this year. It was a job I would have dearly loved to do; questions around compensation couldn’t be resolved adequately and I had to decline the offer. This man, about my own age – give or take a few years – was someone I’d never met before this job interview. And yet he repeated to me – in exquisite detail – one of the answers I’d provided.
It had to do with how older workers need to be mindful and respectful of their younger colleagues, rather than being dismissive of their relative lack of experience. He even mentioned that he’d used those same ideas himself after hearing them from me. I was both incredibly flattered, and a little shocked.
- Let’s be honest: change is hard for many government workers. That’s probably even more true for those of us who have more experience behind us than ahead of us. I find myself thinking often about the words of Mad Men’s Don Draper: “Let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad, it simply is.” Change is inevitable, or as a former Premier of my province was fond of saying, “Change is the only constant.” I’ve changed jobs five times in the past four years. I’ve grown from each and every experience. I’ve had to adapt to new workplaces, news bosses, new colleagues. Some of those experiences have been more successful than others.
In the less successful category, I think of one particular role that was way outside my comfort zone, and well beyond my standard skill set. I took it because it was a good job, doing interesting work on a topic I was passionate about. I learned that wasn’t enough. Even though that particular role was simply not the right fit, it helped me define more clearly for myself what I needed from – and what I offered to – my workplace. It helped me gain a clearer picture of who I am, in other words.
I’ve come to see that the job-seeking advice I offer to my students also applies to me: learn to present who you are as a complete person. Be honest and self-aware, always. And network, network, network.
Above all, be open. Open in your thoughts and ideas, in your approach to your work and your co-workers, and to what the universe is telling you.
And be open to change. As Don Draper says, it just is. You can fight it, or you can accept it. Attitude is everything.
You know that awkward moment when you go to hug someone, and you both do a little dance, trying to figure out exactly the right angle to maximize the experience without making it weird? That’s how I feel about change. It’s all about how you embrace it, not whether you do so.
My thanks to the folks at GovLoop.com for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts. And my thanks to everyone who read, wrote and engaged.