As a freelancer who is considering entering the full-time workforce again, I love reading human resource blogs. I enjoy headlines like “Top five ways to jumpstart your career” and “Top ten interview questions that’ll make you sizzle”. Not exactly the New York Post, but you catch my drift. As a PR person, I used to relish the opportunity to write the standard top ten pitch as if to channel David Letterman. The problem with job advice columns is that they rarely cover the moment when you realize that you have no control whatsoever over your career fate. Unless you’re a corporate scion or so talented and dedicated that you’re indispensable, or you’re on Santa’s nice list (Or naughty list depending on the boss’s perspective).
My goal used to be how to make it back to the PR agency bullpen. I worked for PR agencies in NYC for a few years, “cutting my teeth” in the digital marketing “space” but couldn’t dominate the “blogosphere” because for whatever reason I couldn’t “position” myself well enough at the firm or “frame” articles to my boss’s content. But “it is what it is.” Now I’m more interested in working with the people behind the companies and without the jargon. But that took a while to figure out.
I started out in politics after college and then left to make my mark at a small PR shop in the city. It was grueling work. But the more you struggle, the more you learn to trust your own voice. I took another job at a larger agency before it turned out that I wanted to go back to politics. I felt like the speedster in traffic that wants nothing more than to weave through lanes while driving hard to my next destination. I was going to be a policy guru and studied at NYU part-time (and graduated) to pursue this challenge. But it only burned me out and I eventually lost my job. The failure was worth facing.
One fun fact that all the political talking-heads like to harp on excessively is that young people have limited career options, a dimmer future and are taking up odd jobs or freelancing to make ends meet. Talking point or not, it’s a problem that is being cracked in unique and interesting ways. I believe in startup organizations that are solving real problems that can’t be fixed by large legacy companies because they’ve missed the opportunity.
The late folk icon and activist Pete Seeger said “I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things.” As a resident of the Hudson River Valley, I completely agree. He would know something about changing careers early on in his life. In spite of the fact that our economy could use more workers even though many companies are still not hiring, we live in an interesting moment that is pushing people to consider new career options.
“Millions of small things” means more to us than I think we realize. We have very fragmented media with the interweb and social platforms and other digital products that have created a new mass expression. Our voices can be captured, shared and reinvented and then borrowed or stolen, then bought, sold and packaged again as a new idea. Sometimes small ideas lead to big discoveries or they meet challenges that never would have been addressed by the traditional market.
TurboVote is an example worth discussing. The nonprofit helps college students register to vote using a new technology. The organization was founded by graduate students, and it is one part of a growing trend among young people to seek out their own career dreams and passions to make them a reality. In this case, the founders aim to improve voting habits and turnout. This is a small organization led by smart people.
Now I’m not saying that we should all build our own startup company. In my case, I needed to open my eyes to other possibilities and in seizing that moment; I changed my career path to public policy and later freelancing. But there are many small outfits that are producing interesting products and delivering new services (many led by young people). “Small things” that support big ideas like charity:water and kickstarter.
Let’s also not lose sight of how we define a company’s most precious resource—people. Human Resources, formerly known as Personnel, is undeniably different than ten years ago. Now I can appreciate the word person in Personnel. But “Chief Talent Officers”? At least Google has the courage to call their department “People operations”. I’m wary of titles.
My career has led me in a direction that I never expected. I’m just beginning to embrace it. I believe that many new organizational forms will reward good people and be ultimately more fulfilling. The traditional career is steadily becoming less common. In meantime, I’m going to continue focusing on the small things.