When I was in my early twenties people would introduce me as a computer ‘whizz kid’ and that was really exciting! It was in the early days of the whole micro-computer revolution and being considered a ‘whizz kid’ was the equivalent of the fashionable ‘geek’ of today’s current generation.
But, ‘kid’ had within it a real time limitation and as I started to get into my late twenties, early thirties, I realised that I was not going to be a ‘whizz kid’ for very much longer. I had a choice to make – and this article is all about that choice.
We are all going to get older and find, as I did, that younger people come into our organisations. How we respond can mean the difference between being angry and burnt out – or embracing it and building a completely different and satisfying workstyle as a result.
What happened to me in IT
Perhaps, apart from the modelling and beauty industry, computing is one of the most fashion conscious and ageist environments that you could work in.
That’s because we celebrate the bright young things, the Zuckerbergs who are seen as heroes at very early ages. What’s more, this ageism that we see in computing is increasingly replicated across all different walks of commercial life, and sometimes even beyond into the charity or government sectors.
I saw people five or ten years ahead of me who had had successful careers in IT but were finding that, as they got older, the opportunities were starting to thin out.
I realised that I had a choice to either become a victim – to no longer be that ‘whizz kid’, to have burnt out of my ‘whizz’ and to be crashing to earth. Or, to be a victor – to take that platform that my youth had given me, the relationships I had built and be intentional about stepping up to the next phase of my working life.
How I built a business instead
I talked to friends and to the parents of my friends, looked around and made the decision that for me, the way to take control of the rest of my working life was to build a business. I wasn’t confident that I could do it on my own so I looked around for somebody who had built a business before that I could work with. Once that was in place I stepped out into the next phase of my career.
So, I chose to use the benefit of my youthful brand as a ‘whizz kid’ and then move that into my future and take responsibility for finding a different path.
Should you stay or go?
When I meet people in corporate careers, and particularly when they are a little bit further on in their mid-forties or approaching their fifties, I find they are starting to see ageism coming into their world.
So they also have that same choice: am I going to become a victim and feel hardly done by those younger more energetic people who are coming up behind me? Or, am I going to take my brand, the skills, the experience, the knowledge that I’ve already built up in my working life – the reputation that I’ve already got in my corporate life – and create a new future?
Victims – or victors?
It’s really up to you. I have met some really desperate, sad, unhappy people that choose to see themselves as victims. In their eyes, life is unfair. They feel hard done by and need to contest every single slight that the corporate life presses on them.
But those who say “I have within me the capability, capacity, skills, knowledge and experience to take my value into in a new working life” they will be the victors. But here’s the thing – fundamentally the circumstances they face are the same.
The reality of corporate life
Their life as a full-time, permanent salaried employee at a senior leadership level in the corporate world is going to come to an end at some point. They are going to be replaced by what are seen as more energetic, more driven and younger people. That is the reality they will face either as victims or as victor.
What the victor does is: acknowledge their real strengths of skills, experience and knowledge, the twenty to thirty years’ experience they have of doing what they do, the skills that they have honed and developed in more than ten thousand hours as a professional (e.g. accountant, or marketeer, or IT person).
They might have gone through at least one or two recessions that the younger employees have not seen, and the experience of being in a company experiencing rapid growth or contraction. These are experiences that younger competitors have not had and can’t yet offer, those things that are of real value. They just have to step out and find the place where they are valued.
So, as you look at your situation today, as you see the discomfort of future ageism starting to influence the futures of your colleagues and peers, you have a clear choice.
Are you going to be a victim of this ageism? Or are you going to change the rules of engagement so that you can be a victor?
If you are going to be a victor then the new rules might be that you are going to be a consultant, or an interim, or that you are going to re-train yourself into something completely different.
You might take your skills, knowledge and experience into smaller businesses on a part-time basis where they can really value what you have to offer. Perhaps they can’t afford somebody as skilled, experienced and knowledgeable as you on a full-time basis but, as a portfolio executive, you can bring all your valuable experience to them part-time – and everyone wins.
So, why not find out more about stepping into a portfolio executive workstyle?
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.