My wife likes to use the term seasons, meaning a ‘season of life’ or a easily defined period in your life. There is the season of child rearing, the season of youth, the season of living in a particular community, etc… I don’t think she would use these names, but the point is these are identifiable times that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They are periods of your life that you look back on and can reflect about. You might even be able to take some lessons with you that help you in future seasons.
So if this happens in your personal life, the question automatically comes to this author, are there seasons in your professional life. The answer of course is: Yes. This site and the related writing projects were originally highly focused on the professional individual contributor, but in reality it’s the story of the collision between the professional and the personal that has taken the pole position of my work, but I still focus heavily on the PIC. So what are the seasons of a Professional Individual Contributor? In your personal life, when you are younger you have less commitments, less relationships, no kids.. this season may even include young relatively low stress children. It’s the season where dreams are made and fostered. It is Youth.
For the professional I would call it: The Season of Optimism.
The Season of optimism is generally populated by youth. Someone who has just graduated school, who is just staring with a company. Who is surrounded by and competitive with their peers. As the name implies, they are optimistic, Why is it that startups and more grueling jobs attract the young, the impressionable.. because who wants to graduate from college and say “ok, this is the mid-income, dead end type of job i’m going to have for the rest of my life”. It’s all about the promise of what’s next. “Hey, you can be a top earner in X years”, or “you’ll have your own division if you put in 60 hours”. “This territory wasn’t really worked all that hard before but we know you can turn it around”. This is where the lie of work hard play hard comes in and is most effective. It’s easy for this season to last a decade or more. Why? Because every single position has a line that they spew, a promise of growth that is purposefully wrapped in ambiguity.
I think the second season for the professional is the Real Start of Life.
Generally late 20’s to early 30’s. You have kids.. Your a homeowner. Life is not filled with equity but it’s filled with family. At first when you only have a single child it seems wonderful. You have found some equilibrium at your career. Your not where you want to be but you know the ropes much better than you did starting out. You have made some connections and are finally making a little money. On the family side, when you have your kid you get your maternity or paternity leave. One child is easy to manage. It’s certainly less expensive than when you have multiples. But this is also the seed of where things start to get difficult. If you have multiple kids then they start to get sick. If you are out too much from work, you know it’s impacting the impression. You have to work late because, well you have expectations. Nobody is going to pay you full wages for ½ of a work week, even if you need the other half to take care of your personal commitments. Pressure starts to grow.
The third season is that of Career Acceleration/Stagnation.
Your kids are a bit older and your family is stable.. You still have children but they are older. This is where the rubber meets the road. By this point you should have figured out if you are going to go anywhere in your organizational related career or if you have been pegged as the person stuck at a certain level. You are the CAD guy, you are the Admin, you are the -insert title here-.
The Final season in the regular career is the Undercover Season.
At this point you have accepted your lot in life and are trying to figure out your end game. How do you get the kids out of the house and off the family payroll? How do you hold on to your job in the never ending undulations of reduction after reduction in workforce? How do you do all this and prepare for your ever closer retirement (or how can you maintain your standard of living in the absence of any real retirement)? I think of it as the undercover season because you just want to keep your head down and hold on tight to what you have until you can plan your exit strategy.
The Epilog Season.
Sometimes known as the encore career. The key here is that your bills and major commitments are paid, if your supremely lucky you have your pension and SSI paying out. Now your finally, finally working just for yourself on your own terms. If you have made any sort of realistic foundation with your .5 business, this is where you can make it a full time gig. Maybe you are the consultant with enough contacts to demand $1000 / day for one or two days a month. The real shame here is because of age you only have a few years to enjoy this period of your life and that period of time is going to get shorter. This is sad because this period of your life is exactly what employers actually want.. A high quality, and on demand workforce with no strings attached, where they are meeting all their own needs such as retirement, health care, etc.. where they just show up, work for what’s needed, and go home.
If we could figure out a way to have the foundation of the Epilog Season for our entire career, then all the seasons would become the Season of Optimism, or maybe just give work completely up. Live on what you have pulled together, and spend your days in the Season of Fishing. I’d be good with either.