A Gig, a Product, a Job, a Career, a Profession (The Leadership Series)

Big Red Car here.

The Boss is still up skiing in Steamboat.  Snow is still pouring down and I am starting to feel just a bit sorry for myself.  I have been cooped up all week since Sunday and am getting a bit anxious.

I want to get out and run.  My job, my work, is to lower the top and run like Hell.  Through the neighborhood — never, ever violating the speed limit mind you — and when The Boss is feeling a bit wild through the Hill Country and out to the lake and back again.  I have a great job.  I am in the pleasure business.  Come ride with me.

The Nature of Our Work

This has made me reflect on the nature of our work.  In many ways our work defines us.  Think about it.

Ask a guy what he “does” and he replies with his work.  “Hey, I’m a carpenter.”  or “I’m a programmer.” or “I’m a President and CEO of a public company.”  or “I’m a Big Red Car.”

What we do is important to us and it defines our own self image.  That is why the current dilemma of high unemployment in the United States is so critical — we are messing with the self image of millions of folks who are looking for work to define their very existence.

Me, I’m a Big Red Car and I work for The Boss and I write this blog and I have had steady employment for the last 46 years and 170,000 miles.

The Changing Environment for Work

Today the work environment is no longer stable.  Once upon a time, a person went to work for IBM or AT&T or in banking or accounting or in the Army and you stayed for your entire career, retiring from that institution and morphing into an alumnus of those institutions.

The environment has changed because big institutions no longer represent safe long term promises of employment.  The employers have changed the employment contract.

Today, folks in general but young folks engaged in the new economy in particular are no longer expecting to be employed by the same company for extended periods of time.  In some instances simply because new economy companies — startups — are very risky enterprises and for every long term success there are literally thousands which never survive the birthing.  Young folks may not articulate that concern but they act on the reality of it and are more mobile in their employment decisions and commitments.

So what is your employment situation?  Gig, product, job, career or profession?

The Nature of a Gig

A gig is just a short term position in which typically one’s skills — programmer, construction manager, social media director, project manager, financial analyst, graphic designer  — are required for a distinct beginning and end of a specific project, assignment or gig.  There is no expectation of long term employment though the same employer may have another gig in the wings when this one is finished.

It would not be a stretch of one’s imagination to view the gig as a free lance relationship.

Everyone knows the rules going in and there is always some palpable sense of impending doom and failure if the project does not work.  Everyone knows the score and nobody is going to be surprised by the precipitous nature of the termination of the gig.

Compensation and benefits may reflect these uncertainties but in today’s volatile economy it may just be de rigueur.

The Nature of a Product

Working on a product is in many ways like a gig except it may focus a bit more on the development of a working or final prototype of a product which is then expected to be tested and if met with a favorable reaction put into production.  This is often an engineering or technology endeavor.

A bad example of this was the Solyndra fiasco which saw a company absorb gobs of capital to create a prototype which was no longer competitive at the end of the product development process.

Obviously upon the failure of the product, the company failed and everyone involved lost their positions.

The Nature of a Job

A job is what your father had.  He went to work for IBM and IBM NEVER laid anyone off.  You could not get fired from IBM and you built that job into a career.

Jobs still exist today but they are positioned in a different paradigm — even IBM will conduct layoffs from time to time.

The military will send you off to a war, several times perhaps, and when the war winds down they will thank you and eliminate your job.  Downsizing of the military at the end of a war is now expected.  This RIF (reduction in force) is now a normal part of what was once upon a time a stable situation.

What is a career?

A career is a systematic progression within a single company or a few companies or within a particular discipline in which each successive position is founded upon the experience gleaned from a prior position.

Knowledge progresses smoothly, job responsibilities expand, experience becomes valuable, networks are transferable, compensation increases and you work your way ever upward in a company or a discipline (e.g. finance, marketing).

You may move upward by changing employers — a financial analyst becomes a customer facing loan officer while increasing responsibility, contributing in a more direct manner to the bottom line and being paid more.  Each move is an opportunity to grow your career.

In the end remember the most important part of managing your career, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANAGING YOUR OWN CAREER.  HR or your bosses are not going to do it for you.  Not in this economy.

What is a profession?

A profession is a life’s work in which some underlying professional skill or passion or extensive experience is the glue which binds together your job, your career and an even larger umbrella — mastery of body of work which transcends the work of a single company.  Good examples would be lawyers, accountants, “C” level company officers, professional investors who can relocate their expertise because they are thought leaders or industry leaders.  In every instance, their overall body of work is larger than their job and their career.

A President, CEO of a public company not only knows the business of that company but also the regulatory framework in which the company must operate and the implications of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the underlying legislation which gives rise to that environment.  He knows the

So what is it you are doing right now?

Are you working a gig, a product, a job, a career, a profession?

You undoubtedly are doing some of more than one.  But remember one important thing — YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANAGING YOUR OWN CAREER.

But, really, what the Hell do I know?  I’m just a Big Red Car!



2 thoughts on “A Gig, a Product, a Job, a Career, a Profession (The Leadership Series)

  1. Great thoughts JLM. I have had the good fortune of being in all 5 roles, and it does round you up and make you appreciate the “nature of work”.

    I wonder if there is a parallel about personal life. “The nature (or meaning) of a personal life” Maybe another post idea?

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