In the first few days of last year (2011), I wrote a post titled “Resilience.” The post was inspired by the life story of a masseuse at a spa that my wife and I visited. In short, the terrible challenges which she had overcome and her upbeat, “can do” perspective on life was a clarion call to me that despite the economic pain and suffering the country had endured since 2008, the trait of resilience was essential to a person’s recovery and success.
In this new year, my wife and I went to another spa and my young masseur’s story of his work trajectory revealed his reinvention and adaptability. He was from the Detroit area and had never finished college. He had picked up some IT skills and got a job working for Accenture in Chicago doing automated payroll process consulting. He felt Chicago offered cosmopolitan excitement and economic opportunity that Detroit could not. He worked crazy hours and made good money. He was a very young twenty-something who did not like the work stress and office politics. When his department functions were being moved to San Antonio, he decided not to move, took a severance package, and trained to be a massage therapist. Although he likes his job and his less pressured life style, he intends eventually to go to school to become a physical therapist. It will take him five years to get a master’s degree. He knows there is job growth in healthcare. His father, a railroad retiree, does not understand his desire to change careers every few years.
This kid represents the realities of the new economy and alternative career paths. He knows instinctively that he has to keep reinventing himself and be mobile. He does not resent this fact and this is all he has ever known in his short career.
He is not an executive or highly educated professional, but his situation is instructive. We must all reinvent ourselves and become adaptable in order to continue to be useful and relevant in the marketplace. If a person remains static, he will eventually be out of a job or lose his business.
I am glad that twenty years ago, as the result of my part-time appointment as an Illinois Human Rights Commissioner, I became involved in employment legal matters even though I had been a business, real estate and construction attorney. So as the real estate and construction industries cratered in the last recession, my long ago diversification into executive employment contracts has benefited my law practice. This “reinvention” and my longtime receptivity and relatively early adaptability to technology like laptops, the internet, and social media have kept me relevant and in the game over the years. This all, to be sure, is the result of a combination of serendipity and purposefulness.
My take away from the kid is that reinvention is constant and seems to be accelerating.This whole phenomenon reminds me of one of my father’s favorite admonitions: “Don’t rest on your laurels.”