Many years ago I stood with an older colleague on the deck of his beautiful home as we talked about where he was in life, the challenges he was facing, and the stress that was piled on him that most people did not know about. On this occasion, he muttered a phrase that has stuck with me to this day. As the summer humidity hung in the air, he looked out over the city and said, “Bob, most men live lives of quiet desperation and no one ever knows about it.” It had a chilling effect on me that night and it is something I have grown to better understand over the years. Here stood a man who had accomplished so much in life, had every sign of material and corporate success, beautiful family, the life that most people dream about and yet he was miserable.
Being a close friend and confidant, I knew he felt trapped. He was anchored in life, in a career that left him unfulfilled but always yearning for more, trapped by his material success and not even enjoying it. He was on a treadmill where the pace continued to increase and he was tiring but could not jump off. It was easy to see he had all the wrong anchors in life.
There are good anchors like family, faith, and traditions that keep us anchored and grounded on our journey in life. We need to build and protect those anchors. They become the bedrock upon which we can create a meaningful life. However, there are negative anchors that hurt people as they start to build their careers and those are ones we need to understand and navigate carefully.
In my FoxNews article, “How to Build a Full-Time Life in a Part-Time World” I listed seven things people can do to have success in navigating through a challenging economy and job market. The second tip I gave was to avoid anchors. Those coming out of college looking to land a job need to be flexible and to build a life that allows them to transition quickly in their twenties and thirties as they maneuver in this new economy, take different positions, work with multiple companies, and craft a career that will look very different from their parents and grandparents.
The same flexibility is needed for the mid-career professionals and a new growing demographic, the 55+ year olds who are crafting a second career for the next stage in life.
Over the past year, I have spoken with young and old alike who are navigating this economy and have been amazed at the anchors they place in their lives that prevent them from taking great job opportunities. Here are common phrases I hear:
1) I don’t want to leave this city.
2) I need to live near my family.
3) I can’t sell my house.
4) I need to make “X” so I can’t take that new position because it would be a step backwards even though in the long run it would be a greater opportunity for me.
5) This sounds like a great opportunity but I was looking for something else and this sounds like a difficult assignment.
The anchors come in forms of physical constraints like needing to be locked into geography or having lifestyles that prevent them from being flexible. The anchors can also come in the form of mental barriers such as a perception or fear. Both hinder the individual from being able to seize and maximize great opportunities when they are presented.
Advice for Millennials
My friend and colleague, Calvin Dillinger has written an excellent piece for millennials titled “Upgrade You.” He gives great advice on things to avoid and how to save money. If followed, this can help prevent anchors, reduce debt, build cash reserves, and help establish a life where you can be flexible and transition quickly when opportunities are presented.
Don’t Build Your Prison
Looking back on that night many years ago with my friend talking about the issues he was facing his anchors will resonate more with the mid-career professional who feels trapped. He had created anchors in his life that became a prison. He was on a career path he could not change because of his lifestyle…multiple homes, boats, and the monthly overhead to keep it all going. He had crafted a public perception of success and he could not walk away from this life. He had created his own prison that he could not escape although he was talented in many other areas and could have been successful at many things. To this day, with a smile on his face and cheerful greeting to those around him he labors down that path but is quietly unhappy and unfulfilled every minute of the day.
His words will stay with me for the rest of my life and I will continue to use them as a cautionary tale to those seeking advice on how to plan a successful life. In my last post, I wrote about making sure that we are in alignment with our gifts, skill-sets, and passions because only then will we be able to work towards a career that is meaningful to us and those around us. Do you want to make a difference in the world? Start with doing something you love and are passionate about. Only then will you really unlock your potential to be able to exponentially make the world a better place.
How to Stay Flexible
With that said, here is my parting advice on avoiding anchors in your life. I have seen these to be big anchors that hinder people from seizing great opportunities that are presented to them.
1) Debt = Work hard to stay out of debt. The more debt you have the less flexible you are and the less options available to you.
2) Geography = Early in your career don’t lock yourself into a location. Be willing to move often to take new jobs and advance within your company or industry. Being flexible so you can move is a key to advance in this economy.
3) Mortgages = Be careful when you do decide to buy a home…this can be a very big anchor in your life. If you do things right this will not be an anchor. Your mentor can help you with one.
4) Lack of Long-term plan = If you are married have an understanding with your spouse on what level of flexibility and risk taking you both feel is okay for your family. Both partners need to be on the same page. Have a plan and be working on it together!
5) Lack of Liquidity = Maintain a cash reserve. In business they say “Cash is king” and in your life “Cash equals flexibility.”
Start with self-awareness about your skills, passions, and goals. Then avoid anchors to help you as you start your career as well as help you transition and progress throughout your career. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing someone operate within their sweet spot, being passionate about what they do, and helping others do the same.
A Great Example
The best example I have to offer is my friend Jeremie Kubicek who is the Founder of Giant Impact. Jeremie operated for years as the CEO of Giant Impact but he realized his passion was teaching and inspiring others and he wanted to do more of that. He recently sold everything he had and moved his family to London to start a new division in the company that helps executives and leaders maximize their potential. His keen understanding of his gifts and passions combined with his flexibility and alignment with his wife and children has allowed him to embark on an incredible journey and he is impacting world leaders right now because of it. As you take The Leap at the beginning of your career or later in life he is a great role model to inspire all of us.