Today the agency I work for announced to project team leads they’re ending a relationship with a major client whom they’ve worked with for the last 17 months. In addition to my management duties on this project, I am directly responsible for a team of nine working on content entry into 50+ sites for this client. Eight people on my team will be let go tomorrow. All are 20-somethings, some are fresh out of school, and for most this is their first “real” job. To make things worse, one of them asked me a couple days ago if her contract would be extended and I said yes. The intention had been to extend all contracts until the job was done. But things change. And they change pretty fast in the ad agency world.
This also means my own contract is going to end sooner than I’d anticipated. I can roll with the punches, but what about these kids? What am I going to tell them tomorrow? How do I encourage them to keep at it, to not take this personally, to go after their dreams and not settle for less?
Job Security is a Myth
We live in an age where industries drop off the map by the dozens. Where companies outsource to countries with cheap labor, and machines render human workers obsolete. There is no real job security except maybe for those who work in the government, a hospital or university; but for the rest of us there is no rest. I have been fired myself and I know how it feels. As the song goes, the first cut is the deepest, and I certainly felt the pain. But it taught me a lesson. The only thing you can rely on is your own skills, and the value you deliver to others in applying them.
In other words, job security must come from inside. It can’t be found under a corporate blanket, cuddling up to benefits packages and yearly salary increases. Those days are over. It’s human nature to seek security and hold on to it, resisting change until forced to do otherwise. The sense of security some slower evolving industries may still provide is a false one, and will make you more vulnerable in the long term. In contrast, a career in advertising will force you to be more reliant on your own resources, and in that regard provides excellent schooling. When an agency loses business it will not hesitate to cut the weight of extra workers. For your own sanity, security must come from within.
What can you do to find personal security? How do you build your inner resources, and learn to rely on them alone? Below are a few points that come to mind that I wanted to write down not as advice — because I am in no position to give any advice to you — but as a reminder to myself that I could revisit at difficult times, and hopefully stay the course.
Build Your Self-Confidence
We all have competitors in our field so we need to find ways to stand out. It starts with knowing your strengths and building on them, while knowing your weaknesses and mitigating them. The general goal is to deliver more value than expected. Go the extra mile at every opportunity. People will appreciate it, and that feedback rubs off, changing how we see ourselves, for the better.
Invest In Yourself
Whatever it is you do, you have to invest in it in order to build mastery and reputation. Ever heard of the 10,000 hours rule? Put in the work and do what it takes to accomplish excellence. Whatever perceived disadvantages you might have related to gender, race, available resources or background — there has to be a way to turn it around; to reverse the tide and make it work to your advantage. Leave the excuses behind. They’ll lead you straight to a dead end.
Do What You Love / Find Your Passion
Some of us are lucky and know what they’re born to do at an early age. Others are not so lucky — they take more time to explore and develop themselves professionally. I fall into the latter group. I’ve done at least 20 different things in my career.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do. Pick something that feels right and excel in it, because that will teach you about who you are and what you value, and somewhere along the way you are bound to stumble across something you love. It doesn’t matter so much where you start. Activating the process will quickly show you if you are on the right path or not.
Nurture Your Network
I don’t mean add 1,000 connections on LinkedIn. I mean seek out ways to contribute to people in a meaningful way. There is nothing more satisfying than helping others get a step closer to their dreams, be it small or large. Make it a point to get to know a person and think how you can add value to their lives.
Take That Leap
Not very long ago I was brought on to lead digital production at a traditional agency that wanted to build a digital practice. The VP of Digital who hired me told me to pick my own job title. Coming from a Project Manager role at a previous agency I wanted Senior Project Manager (one step up), but he said I shouldn’t take that because there was already one senior PM who was supposed to report into me. He said I could have any title except “Digital Emperor” since that was already taken by him. I was a little nervous assuming a Director title since that would be skipping a step on the ladder. I called my ex-boss and mentor to explain the situation. She told me to step up to the challenge, take the director title and show them how it’s done. I took her advice and ran with it.
I had to fake it at first, and by doing that I quickly discovered it’s true what they say — fake it till you make it — because I did make it. Build your confidence and inner resources and step up to the plate. Sometimes that means taking a leap of faith.
Start a Business / Work for yourself
Since there is no job security, you might as well work for yourself. The tendency on the part of corporations to hire temp workers is a growing trend and it’s only going to get worse (or better, depending on how you look at it). If you set out to be at the top of your game you will be in demand. Can you imagine being your own boss? You get to set the rules, and you are paid what you know you deserve. It’s real, and YOU can make it happen.
Artwork by Aaron Kraten