The Inside Guy
Project Manager's Note: During the last two weeks, I have spoken with many former next gen participants who are either "in transition" or thinking about a transition. At first, I chalked it up to the "new year's resolution" thing. Now, I'm not so sure. After an extended hiatus, our "Inside Guy" is back and offers some perspective on the state of things.
RebootBy Tom Krymkowski
Everything was working just fine. It wasn't perfect. Or even finely tuned. And lately things were even a bit sluggish. But every time you sat down it worked. You had your issues. But nothing is perfect. You held up your end of the bargain and as long as you played the game right, all was well.
Then...WTF?!! Not now.
I'm sure it's happened to everyone and so much more often in this age of the free agent. That regular gig you've grown so accustomed to ends for one reason or another. If you're lucky, you saw it coming and had plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable. If you're like me you had mere days to react and make what ends up being a pretty serious decision about what will become the next chapter of your life.
The smart freelancer anticipates lulls in the demand for their services. They've either got a few new clients waiting in the wings, enough money squirreled away for a rainy day, or another source of household income they can rely on. That's basic survival. You make sure you can pay your bills and carry on to freelance again. But I know everyone isn't like that. And those with full-time jobs are freaking out about now.
I was lucky. I had a choice. Either keep my current situation and work for someone I neither respected nor could reasonably endure. Or end my contract and see what the world would bring me. I had seen my friends leave my once steady gig in the months before. I was already planning my escape. It just happened a little sooner than my bank account would have liked. "The best laid plans of mice and men," and all that. It wasn't an easy choice. And, it had its painful moments. But ultimately I decided to move on. I took a chance that all the advice I hand out to people was actually valuable and would work for me too.
More decisions. It took me exactly four days to decide what to do next. But before I set off on my new journey, I had to plan out my route and at the very least choose a direction. To get ready, I looked back on the past two years and asked myself some questions: What was great about my experience? All the things I learned. All the people I met. All the things that really worked. What would I change? The kind of organization I worked for and one that shared more of my values.
What was I really looking for?
The last one was easy and one I have had the answer to for a while. I'm never content to just pick up and go do the same thing somewhere else. I always want a job that lets me learn and/or grow as person. It's mandatory. I also need to have some creative freedom, and respect those I work with and for.
They're easy things to put into words. It's taken me years to get to the point where I could easily put them into practice. But once you choose not to settle, you'd be surprised at all the cool things that happen.
So now I'll tell you what I did when I started my life over, so to speak. What I did when I was re-evaluating my career. What you should do as well when you need to get another job. After all there's nothing wrong with being practical too.
Know what you want. Specifically. The things you want to learn. The people you want to work with. The people you want to serve. I talk to WAY too many people who have this vague notion about what they want to do. You have to focus. You can always change your focus if you learn more or grow, but you have to pick one. If you're a multi-task person like me, you either find one organization that will allow you to be and do all of the things you want, or you work for multiple clients and be happy with that arrangement
Look for problems you can solve, NOT a job someone can give you. Sometimes they're one and the same but usually they aren't. Most people go begging when they need work. They ask for someone to have pity on them and let them come and work at whatever company. Harsh? Maybe. But look who wins. Certainly not the person going begging right? Now, look at the opposite. You have skills. Skills that people need. Only you can provide the unique combination of skills, knowledge, and personality that is you. Go looking for problems that you can solve. And, if only YOU can solve them, so much the better.
Network, Network, NETWORK. Did I mention network? I didn't appreciate this one until about ten years into my career. Even then, I didn't create my own network until I saw others with strong connections to other professionals. Most people see "networking" as schmoozing or somehow disingenuous. Networking, in my opinion, is simply telling people who you are, and what problems you can solve. I think the real strength in networking is finding a solution to someone's problem by putting him or her in touch with someone else who can solve it. Everybody wins.
Choose your boss wisely. This is one of the hardest things to put into practice. When you're just getting started, you suck it up. Believe me I understand. But, I've always believed you have a choice. And the sooner you make that choice, the sooner you'll move on to better opportunities. I hope everyone has the opportunity to work for a good boss/client. Once you have, you'll never want to go back to accepting something less just for a paycheck.
Put a little money away. This is your burn rate. How much time you can last until the health plan at the corner coffee place starts looking attractive? How long you can go until you have to move in with relatives. The longer your burn rate, the less likely you'll settle even if you are employed. And when looking for work, it's much easier to negotiate when you have something to fall back on. You're also more likely to risk trying for exactly what you want. Imagine the kind of work you'd do if you could last a year. Imagine the kind of opportunities you would try for. Imagine what you would and would not settle for in your life. Now, start saving accordingly.
Now, It looks like things are running smoothly again. In fact, I would say they're even better.
Thoughts? Write Us.
Tom Krymkowski is a freelance Audio Engineer, Multimedia Producer, and Amateur Photographer living in San Francisco. He works as a Technical Advisor for npr's Next Generation Radio. When he's not on the road he farms out his skills to NPR station KQED-FM, The Pixel Corps, PodShow, and other Podcasters in the Bay Area and beyond.