Part of the Series “The Age of Entrepreneurship”
For the first decade of my career, I was the quintessential company man. I thought I was going to be a “lifer” and I was incredibly proud of that. I followed the path of the corporate hierarchy and moved to three different states for my employer, IBM. I was rewarded for my loyalty and tenure with promotions, picnics and silver spoons when my children were born. I was also taught to measure success in other ways such as the size of one’s office (we counted ceiling tiles, not kidding) and whether or not it had a wood desk (Also true; I know this sounds insane in today’s world of open office plans).
Then, 11 years into my tenure, the company decided to shut down the manufacturing plant in Boca Raton, where I was working. They offered anyone willing to leave a sweet deal: two years’ salary, two years of benefits and $25,000–but I didn’t even consider it. I didn’t want to leave IBM. My wife had other plans, however. She also worked at IBM and was pregnant with our daughter, and thought the package was too compelling to pass up. If she was going to leave, I decided I would too.
With that move, I also left behind my belief in the paternalistic company. I recognized that no corporation should or could take care of me forever. At first, this was a scary realization. But as time wore on, I realized how empowering and liberating it was to view myself as the CEO of my own destiny. This didn’t mean that I could never work for anyone else again. In fact, I would spend the next several decades working for other companies—but I was the one in charge of my fate. This was perhaps the most influential epiphany of my career.
My IBM experience, from the loyalty-based rewards to the excessive exit package, seems utterly unfathomable today. Many of today’s workers don’t even have a desktop, let alone a wood desk. Jobs for life? That’s also a relic. The number of people who put in more than 10 years at a company has decreased significantly, while the number of people leaving jobs after less than one year, is rapidly increasing. Statistics show that the Generation Y employee will have ten jobs by the age of thirty-eight. Kids in high school say they never want to work for “the man.”
At the same time, employees need to stop blaming companies for not offering them jobs for life. That’s expecting something that is outsized and antiquated. With increased global competition, companies have had to make trade-offs to survive or thrive. One of the first trade-offs was to give up some of the trappings of the paternalistic company, including the notion of lifelong jobs and pension plans.
But it’s not entirely fair to vilify corporate America for this change, corporations have ceased being stable. The average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped from seventy-five years (in 1937) to fifteen years today, according to John Hagel III at Deloitte Center for the Edge.
The paternalism that defined IBM doesn’t exist anywhere—including IBM. The rewards for tenure are gone—and many of the ceiling tiles too. About 25 percent of IBM’s worldwide workers telecommute from home offices.
We are now in the Age of Entrepreneurship, where the only one in charge of your career is you. Recognizing that you do not need to cede control to a company, and that you are the CEO of your own destiny, is the first step to achieving the career of your dreams. Adopting a new mindset is the secret to succeeding in this new era.
How To Succeed In The Age Of Entrepreneurship:
Get voted onto the team every day: Make sure you do something every day to show others you deserve to be part of their team.
It’s all about integrity: Do what you say. Say what you do. Always act in a way that makes people remember you positively.
Have a great attitude: You might be brilliant, but if you are hard to manage, it’s easy to find someone else. Be fun and easy to work with.
Be brutally honest with yourself: Be harder on yourself than anyone else will be. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t confuse action for traction: Focus on outcomes, not facetime.
Build your network: Find role models and mentors outside of your organization.
Be brave and be bold: Most things worth doing are hard, successful people get to where they are because they make the hard appear easy.
Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t look back and wish for things to be the way they used to be. The world always moves forward.