This past week saw the axe fall at places like BuzzFeed and ESPN, where several hundred folks in the media industry were left to try and figure out what’s next for them as their careers take a shift in the very fluid and still volatile industry world we’ re in today. No matter where you work today, especially if you hit a certain pay grade and an age, job security becomes an issue.
If you work for a publicly traded company, heads roll as the stock price fluctuates; it’s less a statement of you, and more of a statement on the way business is done today. The only certainty is, it’s not going to change going forward. While a few hundred in the media business seems like a great deal, especially since places like Buzzfeed and ESPN are very prominent names in the public eye, it is no easier for the 2,700 recently let go at Hershey’s, or The Limited closing its doors and letting go of 4,000 people, or Macy’s downsizing and casting off 10,000 people. It’s not easy…but it’s not the end of the world no matter how much it seems like it is for the short term.
The question becomes, what do you do next? I know, I have been there twice, three times if you count when our venture, The International Fight League, closed its doors just over nine years ago. There is no good done by looking back and whining, it’s been a question, an immediate one for me, of moving forward and immediately trying to figure out what is coming.
So, some thoughts. The first series of which comes in this must read on job and business advice from my colleague Tom Richardson. Tom and I do a podcast at Columbia University on Sports Business, and over almost two years have talked to some of the smartest and disruptive and interesting people from many walks of life, all of which touch sports. He went through all of them and came up with this post of best advice, and while it is tailored for young people, it rings true for anyone out there looking to figure out what to do as life deals you some lemons. Take a read.
Second is something which I have tried to convey to many who have lost their job, and they feel, part of their identity. I have had long conversations with too many quality people, not workers…people, in the past year who have worked at high profile companies, especially in sports, and have given their all only to be told their all wasn’t needed any more. A change of direction, philosophy, style, budget facilitated a change and they were the ones out, sometimes for no reason than bad timing. For years they were x person from x team or x company, and that was what made them whole. Now they were just some guy or girl out on the street looking for a job. Their daily identity, they felt, was lost.
Here’s the news flash: YOUR JOB DOES NOT DEFINE YOU.
It’s just a job, and in an era where lifestyle and quality of life is critical and loyalty in the workplace is sometimes a one way street, being a slave to a desk, no matter how passionate you are about what you do, is not the way the world works. Most importantly, you are going to miss a lot of elements of life that will stay with you well beyond watching a game in a stadium, or being at a Groundhog Day type event. The world we are in today allows remote work and work life balance has to be key for survival. Now that does not mean that hard work is lost in any way, for whatever you do (and that means a job search as well). I love working, I love learning, I love dealing with people and improving every day as best I can. However I have to take the time, even if it is early in the AM or late at night, to think about things other than work and fit them into a schedule. No one said it was easy, but you have to do it. Those things; the touchpoints with family and friends, the lighting of Christmas tree lights, the listening to music, the interaction with a neighbor, the changing of a lightbulb even, give you pause and purpose and a little bit of balance. It’s never 9 to 5 and feet up on the couch, but it is a much needed respite.
But back to being defined by a job. In a world that is so volatile where things do seem out of one’s control even when all the work boxes are checked, being defined by whom you are as a person is invaluable. How you treat others, how you listen to those around you, how you manage tasks, how you bring new ideas into the workplace, how you lead, how you get the little things done, is so much more important now.
When you have the hammer use it to build for others, don’t use it as a weapon.
I have seen many in big positions think that their role made them invaluable to colleagues. The Return On Ego is off the charts. In reality once they lost that role and they were not Mr. or Ms. SVP of BIG BRAND, OR TEAM OR LEAGUE they found out the hard way what people thought of them as people, not as a senior executive. You have to be your own person, show your humanity towards those around you, because when the chips are down, the reality is your personal capital is all you have. Your reputation, and how you treated others goes far; much farther than all those you stepped over around or through on the way to get to that spot, and the road back up the ladder when you down is much smoother when you have treated people well.
Now being 54 and having been on my own…and what that means is you work for LOTS OF PEOPLE, NOT FOR YOURSELF…for nine years has its ups and downs, and that’s part of the tradeoff, but it does give you a modicum of independence if you can do it. What it does mean is I really can’t be defined by any one element, because you have to juggle many. It keeps you fresh, on your toes and always thinking ahead while balancing the present. It’s not for one who likes a traditional structure, and frankly I’m still not sure if it’s for me, but I have made it work because I had to. Some people pushed me out the door, many came along and helped when it was unexpected and gave me a chance, and off we went to some amazing places. I think a lot of that is not because I worked for the Knicks or the USTA, it’s because I built a reputation learned from loss to do the right thing as often as you can. Man I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but learning from those, and saying things like “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know,” or gasp, “Thank You,” goes a long way. Simple but important.
So while I understand the outpouring of stories and tweets and texts about the downfall of big companies, especially for a company like ESPN which has had its share of lumps, I think it is much more productive not to bemoan and wring hands but to look ahead for the opportunities of defining oneself that exist. It’s not easy and it takes time but everyone, everyone has a purpose and can lead fun, rewarding, profitable and meaningful lives in a sports and entertainment business that continues to move and engage. It may not be what you did yesterday or will do tomorrow, but there is a role for everyone, and that role is defined by who you are, not where you work.
For those who have been forced to move on this week, I feel for you, it’s unfortunately part of life, but that part of life is in the past now. Time to move on. The new job is finding a job and redefining your life, and while doing that thinking about the balance and what is important in getting you from point A to point B. You can’t be defined by where you work; you are defined by who you are.
Trust me, been there. It’s not easy ever. But if you have positive human capital, it will pay off because of who you are, not what you do.