Expand Yourself, Think Outside The Box

When you are a child, someone of advanced age will invariably ask you what you plan on doing when you “grow up”.  We all gave our answers: policeman, fireman, doctor, veterinarian, nurse, astronaut, or some other lofty and noble aspiration. The goals would change as we advanced in age to include NBA basketball star, heavy metal Rock Star or in my case, I just wanted to be an international playgirl like Princess Stephanie of Monaco. I saw the glossy images of her jet skiing in the south of France with Jean Paul Belmondo’s beautiful son, and thought that was the life I needed to lead. No matter that I was from a more humble birth, far from the Cote D’Azur; I had a destiny in life!

Well, things don’t always work out the way you dream, do they? And I guess if my experience has shown me anything, it is that in today’s turbulent job market, being a chameleon of talent is a definite asset. Time was, you chose a trade, or you chose a major in college and you spent a lifetime in that career, retiring at 65, sometimes having worked for only one company your entire adult life. We know today, that is very unrealistic. The economic downturn of 2008, our Great Recession, from which we are slowly and agonizingly slothing out of, caught many a well trained, able bodied adult in a position of having the major problem that their marketable skills were not in high demand anymore. What to do?

A friend of mine attended UCLA and majored in English Literature. Along the way, she earned extra money during school by doing bookkeeping for different business owners. Upon graduation, she actually relied on this talent to land her a job with a private money management firm. When that went under during the 2008 crash, she segued into bookkeeping for a few different start-up software firms. Meanwhile, she kept pursuing her dream of being an actress. Soon, she began production accounting for small film productions, and now she has been managing projects of her own as executive producer. So, each step in the ladder, started with a side talent that she developed while pursuing her goal, and figured out how to be marketable in the field she wanted, with that skill.

Today’s wage earner has to be more than just a wage earner. You have to be nimble in your approach to your life plan, and you must develop new talents over time. Whether you actively seek out new avenues of commerce, such as learning a certain software language, or becoming highly efficient at Microsoft Office programs, or as I did, apprenticing with a farrier to learn how to trim horse hooves, secondary skills will help you ride turbulent economies. That’s right, horse hooves. They must be trimmed every 6-8 weeks, just like you or I need a haircut. Or as, I saw in a family who had fled from Iran in 1979, the lawns of Beverly Hills have to be cut frequently, as well.  They became landscapers, after being bankers in Iran. Find the trades that do not suffer as much during down cycles in the economy because they are essential and repetitive in nature. You know, like becoming proficient at things that need cutting regularly.

Examine your current skills. Another friend, who worked for years in food service and then in gourmet gift baskets and catering, recently lost his job. The mode du jour interview process baffles him. Even the most humble of positions, such as a food server at a local hotel, a barrista at Starbucks, or a clerk at Macy’s requires an online application and then waiting and hoping that somehow the powers that be at the other end of the email will consider your resume` worthy for actual human contact. It is humiliating and frustrating. For those of us old enough to remember, one would stroll into an actual business and have at least some eye contact with another person during the hiring process. It gave you an opportunity to use your charm, your body language, and the other myriad of skills absent in sending an electronic message to God knows whom.

My friend says he keeps getting job offers from the online job searches like Monster and CareerBuilder for things he does not list on his resume`. One of the offered positions, for which he was interested, included being proficient at Excel. I told him to answer those offers, anyway, and LEARN Excel in the meantime. You do not usually get an interview the very next day. Right? And one certainly has a lot of time on one’s hands. Here is a golden opportunity for him to add to his toolbox. Would he be an expert at Excel after a week with Excel For Dummies? Probably not, but perhaps he could know enough to land a position where he could practice every day – and get paid. If this sounds too cavalier regarding misrepresenting your abilities to a potential employer, consider this: the job of the hiring manager is to qualify you for the position. Don’t disqualify yourself. Be aggressive, have confidence and bit off more than you can chew, of need be. That is how we grow. That is how we add skills to our toolbox and increase marketability.

Use your old skills when you need them. Brush the dust off, and do not be afraid to go backwards in order to go forwards. A woman met and fell in love with a man from the United Kingdom. He moved to the United States to live with her, and marry. This, however, just made him another undocumented worker until his green card application process was completed. He was loath to just sit around the house whist his wife went to work. He wanted to be productive and helpful in their new, fresh marriage. His wife is a gregarious person, always in a sales job for her adult life, and she used to sing in a blues band, as well. She has an enormous network of friends. So, he joined the other day laborers in the construction company of one of her contacts, until he could legally seek employment in the U.S. It may be difficult, and even physically painful, at first to drive nails all day, but it gets you through the crisis of having no income.

Sometimes an investment in updating old skills is necessary. Jane went to theater graduate school at NYU. She moved to Los Angeles after a couple of years of doing off-off-Broadway productions, got lucky and landed a decent agent. She had a few years of success as an actress in LA, but suffered a set back when the agency dispersed, and her agent left town. Replacing the agent was not easy. So, Jane gave up, was in love and got married, and the couple moved to Seattle where she sold real estate. Well, we know how that story went. Circumstance forced her abandon the real estate industry. She set about to revamp her acting skills by taking voice over lessons. However, the talents she has in vocal communications are prevalent throughout her careers. She evaluated what avenues could be pursued with the training she had so dearly paid for years earlier. And she came up with a plan to make those skills commercial again. It required some fine-tuning, but the basics were there. Now she has a new craft to utilize. While at school in New York, she was a paid, 80 words a minute word processor. She has written a book along the way, and could also be poised to consult on scripts and plays.

Even one’s hobbies can be put to use. I regularly kick-boxed and worked out at a dojo for five years. Having been a distance runner in high school and college, I had no fast twitch muscle memory until I pursued this workout regimen. I also learned better reaction skills and eye hand coordination via sparring. This enables me, now to have better reaction skills with fractious horses in my current career. Without the skills I nurtured through hours in the gym, I would not have been capable of reacting as quickly as is necessary in dealing with a 1000 pound two year old. Also, any hobby in which you have invested many hours and become adept is a venue for being a paid instructor. Obtaining certifications and clients can be done more quickly than you think.

Let’s face it – the world has an exploding population, increasingly rapid technological advancements and a volatile marketplace. These factors necessitate you to be learning and honing new skills, CONSTANTLY. To be complacent is to fall behind. Even if you have a comfortable position in life, and think that your future is assured, no one is beyond having cataclysmic events change their situations in life. Being prepared by enjoying our human ability to learn and grow is indeed a key to a full and satisfying life. From pickthebrain.com:

If you ignore the important of continuous learning, you’ll find:

  • You waste money. You keep needing to pay for professional help – when it’s a task that you could’ve learnt how to do yourself. Maybe you “can’t cook” so you always eat out.
  • You miss opportunities. You get passed over for promotions, because you don’t show any interest in picking up new skills at work.

You lose a great source of fun and fulfillment. There’s enormous satisfaction to be found in learning things and really getting a new concept or skill.

Besides, all that growth and learning can come in quite handy!




Gaye Goodwin



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