There’s an old Chinese proverb that says when winds bring change some will build walls, and others will build windmills.
I suppose there’s a part of all us – especially creative people — that wants to think that we are windmill builders and not wall builders. We want to believe that we can embrace the winds of change and that those breezes will spin our personal windmills and fill our minds with powerful ideas about how to change the world.
But the honest truth is you never know what type of person you are until the pressure is applied – until the winds of chaos and tumult are swirling about you and you must choose a path. Most people don’t realize it, but it takes a lot of courage to stand up in the wake of a hurricane of change and announce that you are risking everything and going with the flow in the hope of a magical transformation instead of standing fast on the foundations of tradition that underpin who you are and will lead you down a familiar path.
Building walls and standing pat are safe. You work an entire career piling one job upon another in a career as you slowly climb from clerk to salesman to manager to vice president. This foundation allows you to build great walls that you can brace behind for protection when the winds of change arrive.
Being a wall builder is stable and predictable. Didn’t slow and steady win the race? Wasn’t it one of those fabled American pigs who built his house out of bricks and mortar so that the big bad wolf couldn’t huff and puff and blow it all away?
Building walls in today’s economic environment might save you from the winds of change and difficulty in the short term, but will it really let you reach your highest potential?
Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of folks who seldom update their resume. Heck, until I was part of a media layoff I was one of them. Layoffs? Those won’t happen to me. I do something no one else is willing to try, I told myself.
It’s sort of like living in the same house for years. Things pile up, but you pretty much know how to keep things running on a daily basis, so who cares if you’ve got boxes standing on boxes in the basement? Until you decide to move, it’s not an issue – until you have a fire.
If nothing else, these past few years of difficulty and unrest have taught us that you never know when life is going to decide for you that your career is taking a turn, so you better have a resume at the ready. Having lived through a couple of layoffs, I live my life a lot differently than before.
I’ve seen far too many friends, colleagues and neighbors laid off in the past five years to count. Their story – my story – our story – is pretty much the same. There we sat fat, dumb and happy in the walls we had built while the winds of change swirled around us. Things were too comfy inside the career silos we had created to even think about what sort of future that building a windmill might allow – what sort of energy we could harness to turn into the power of a new career opportunity.
Maybe I’m less naïve today, but now I sleep with one eye open when it comes to my career. While I’m not actively looking for a job – a big shout out to the folks who took a chance on me this past year — I nonetheless do periodic check-ins on my resume, online portfolio and LinkedIn profile to make sure if worse comes to worse, I’m ready to scramble. I also mind what I post on social media because you never know what people are looking at when they do the hiring.
I also try to keep my finger on the pulse of the jobs landscape as well. Better to know what is out there than to be shocked when the time comes and you’re looking for work. I also emphasize learning as many news skills as possible so that I’m job-ready should the winds of change blow again. Call this my version of windmill building.
Negro Leagues legend Satchel Paige was famous for saying, “Don’t look back. Somebody might be gaining on you.” These days, I say it’s better look back than not at all because you never know if that somebody catching you is the layoff reaper or just the winds of change. I say it’s better to be safe than sorry.