Remember the days when people would align themselves with a company early on in their working careers and spend the better part of their lives providing service to that business until the day that they were of age to retire? Surrounded by a network of longtime colleagues the worker would celebrate his retirement with a cake and a few keepsakes from management. I’m too young to recall those days, but I’ve heard that many companies would honor the culmination of an individual’s employment by offering him a gold watch as a parting gift. It all seems a bit cliché to me, but I’m sure that it was a special time for those employees moving on to the next phase of their lives. When you give your blood, sweat, and tears to a place for the better part of your working career, it has to be an emotional experience letting go.
My generation approaches work a bit differently than the baby boomers reaching retirement age today. Our careers are generally characterized by victories and defeats and stepping stone jobs that we hope will ultimately lead us to positions offering us the level of gratification for which we will be willing to settle. We did however grow up in a society that was constantly raising the bar higher, so settling can be very difficult. And in my opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. We should feel motivated to keep growing throughout the course of our careers. Sometimes that means that we will need to seek greener pastures as we outgrow our current surroundings. The decision to head in a different direction may result in the forfeit of a gold watch at the time of our retirement, but that’s a sacrifice that most of us should be willing to make. As members of Generation X, we live for today, not twenty or thirty years down the road. We’ve got plenty of time to worry about a retirement keepsake later on in our careers.
Despite our willingness to move around from position to position however, the workers of my generation do, like those of the baby boomer period, value job security. Interesting thought, isn’t it? We want to feel that our jobs are safe, but we also want to keep the door open for better opportunities that may come knocking. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too. It must be a difficult time for employers to be hiring. How can you tell that you’re ever going to receive a consistent, committed effort from those that you employ to fulfill their duties and find a home within your organization? It’s a risky venture. But you can’t run a business without strong people behind you. So if you want to attract and retain good quality people, you’ve got to create an environment that is supportive of employees’ efforts, one which provides opportunities for growth, and offers workers a sense of security in their positions. Otherwise, you really don’t have a shot.
As employees, we’re taking a major risk in investing our time and efforts in the growth of someone else’s business. It’s estimated that we will spend roughly one third of our lives dedicated to our careers. That’s a major time and energy commitment. So it’s imperative that we choose our career paths wisely. But no matter how selective we may be, there are no guarantees for us. We live in a horribly unpredictable world. And economically, things certainly have not been on our side in recent years. We are at the mercy of many factors beyond our control when we choose to align ourselves with the employers of today. Most businesses aren’t planning for our retirements twenty to thirty years down the road. In fact, there are many who aren’t looking beyond the next twenty to thirty days. The reality is that for most, business is a grind.
We the workers of today need to understand that if we truly want to partner flexibility with job security, we need to look no further than within. If we desire upward personal mobility and limitless opportunities to service the needs of the people, then we must develop and diversify our strengths to a level that assures us a hire no matter the times. To obtain security in an insecure world, we’re going to need to take it. There is no employer who can offer us immunity from hardship. The business world is going to throw employers curveballs from time to time, and as long as we’re reliant on a paycheck from someone else, we are at risk of being a casualty. That’s why it’s so important that we take the initiative to develop our talents and skills and remain an attractive candidate to all employers at all times. We must build our personal brands to a level unmatched by our colleagues and provide a level of expertise and service that will be deemed invaluable among the masses if we’re ever going to excel in the cutthroat world in which we live.
The days of gold watch keepsakes and office retirement celebrations are over. So don’t worry about marking your calendar and counting down the days until you say farewell. Instead, start thinking about what you can do today to expand your personal contribution to the workforce. How can you diversify your offerings and add to the development of your brand? What’s going to make you a priceless candidate among the employers of your future? Invest in you, and you’ll develop all that you need to ensure that when you hit retirement age you won’t find yourself waiting on a memento, as you’ll be handing them out instead.
May God Bless!