Recently, I came to the realization that I have less years left to work (before getting to the “official” retirement age), than I have already worked in my life! Although I plan to still be working (in one way or another) after age 65, this bit of news made me pause for a number of reasons. Most of these all took second place to a trip through my memories as I remembered all the jobs I held through the years and all the companies I worked for.
Basically, I was trying to understand how I got to be where I currently am. Was there a specific point or path I was on that led me from being a programmer laying out ALGOL or Clipper code to a Manager of Development and Operations? Where did I go from wanting to create programs myself to wanting to lead a team of diverse individuals to create systems together?
Also, in an attempt to look towards the future, I was trying (or rather, am still trying) to understand where I want to go, or what I want to accomplish in the next few years. I don’t really see this as a “career mid-life crisis” since I never looked at the work I’ve done as being a career! I worked at a company because 1) I liked what I did, 2) who I worked with, and 3) believed in what the company was trying to do. When two of those three points would no longer be true, I packed my bags and went looking for a new company to hopefully set down roots.
Three simple points, but they served me well. Any one alone could have a huge impact on my morale and attitude if it was negative, but mixed with a second negative one, it was a deal breaker. Simply put:
- If I didn’t like what I was doing, I could drudge through it for a while (provided it was temporary)
- If I didn’t like the people I was working with OR working for, I could contain my exposure to them (to a certain degree)
- If I felt the company was no longer “helping” people or bringing value to everyday citizens, or focused purely on profits… well, that was the toughest one to ride through and usually caused me to start planning a move.
Yes, there have been times when I have been unemployed because I stuck to my personal rules. Those times were tough but making myself miserable and continuing to work in a toxic environment was worse. How do these three points stack up to engagement? Easily:
- Liking my work = feeling valued and appreciated. Getting to work each day should not be a chore. If I’m happy, I’m providing value and will constantly bring my “A” game.
- Working with strong and intelligent co-workers drives us individually and as a team which ultimately leads us to create great things together. Successful Collaboration = high output.
- Companies need to make money to stay in business, that’s a fact. But that can still be done while holding onto moral values of bettering the lives of those we serve. Keeping a sense of community allows us to thrive because of the trust and respect of our customers, not in spite of them! Proud of your company = proud of the work you do/ feeling like you’re making a true difference.
The beauty of these points is that, on a specific level, I treat my employees the same way. I want them to like what they do, learn to collaborate effectively, and be proud of their contributions! In other words, we work together to be engaged. There’s my truth for a high-performing team!
As I continue to reflect upon my past, I’ll use the opportunity to jot some of the bigger “aha!” moments down. Considering I find myself regularly sharing tidbits of knowledge and management styles with newer managers, this might make it easier for me to have a list of pieces I can direct them to.