At some point, I allowed some small measure of complacency to set in.
It’s perfectly natural. I have been at the same job, doing the same type of thing day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. As an economic developer, I report to several levels of supervisors, a commission that reviews my efforts and progress in public monthly, and a Mayor and Village Board.
Despite all that and despite always adopting some new program or technology to “improve things,” “become more efficient” and “business-friendly,” I had grown fairly settled and complacent in my position.
That was all abruptly and unexpectedly changed about two months ago in early June when my boss and I were informed at the same time that I was going to be transferred from the department and boss where I had been doing my thing for the past dozen years, to a different department under new and inexperienced leadership who also happen to be totally unfamiliar with economic development.
So, pick your cliché. My Cheese Was Moved. The Only Constant is Change. The More Things Change, The More Things Stay the Same.
Among other things related to my sudden and anxiety-inducing change, one thing that it has done is lit a fire under my ass in three ways that come to mind.
First and foremost, it has forced me to step up my game at work. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it has forced me out of my comfort zone, which was not very comfortable to begin with, into a far more uncomfortable zone.
Every expenditure, every meeting out of the office, every trade show, the details of my meetings with potential businesses and developers, the advertisements that I choose to purchase and much more is closely scrutinized now. My former boss trusted me enough, as he should, to handle these things properly without looking over my shoulder at everything that I did. That is no longer the case.
Also, my new boss is not asking but commanding me to embrace the latest technology, and I am doing my best to accept and embrace it. Not only will that make me look better in the eyes of the Powers That Be in my place of work, but I will probably add those projects to my resume to make me look like I am on top of the latest economic development technology and not stuck in the dinosaur age.
I am also helping to hasten the demise of human economic developers, as we now put nearly every piece of information that I have on our website so that even the most novice intern can access much of the same information that have been the nuts and bolts of my position.
Speaking of my resume, this transfer to an inexperienced Assistant Administrator fourteen years my junior who started as an intern a mere eight years ago has forced me to confront the notion that my career path has stalled and plateaued in my mid-forties.
I suppose that I am neither the first nor the last middle aged Middle Class Guy to find his career path permanently remain on the fourth or fifth step out of seven or eight. When I took this position in 2005, I was still moving up the career ladder, having worked for the past three years at a far inferior community and doing much less pure economic development activities than I do now.
This leads to my second thought about lighting a fire under my ass. Before this transfer, I had been close to accepting that I am destined to remain with this employer at this position for eight and a half more years, until the end of 2025, at which time I would reach the age of double nickels and be eligible to begin collecting somewhere around $6,600 or $6,700 per month from IMRF.
Mind you, I am not saying that I would “retire.” I am simply saying that my chains of municipal servitude would be removed, and I would be free to pimp myself out as a consultant, a contract economic developer, a director of a public-private partnership, or a freelance writer/driver/task doer/volunteer/tutor/whatever. One of the millions or tens of millions of gig economy hustlers, with the benefit of knowing that a lower middle class income would be automatically deposited in my checking account on the first of every month.
I no longer feel that way. There is no reason that a forty-six or forty-seven-year-old with seventeen years of stressful and highly productive economic development experience should not be able to get hired for a new position. I am, basically, at the top of my abilities when it comes to economic development and could greatly help a community in the next phase of technology- and entrepreneurial-driven economic development.
I have not applied for a new position for a few years now, and the last two that I applied for I ultimately turned down. One because the longer hours and longer commute would have added about two hours to my average workday and the other because I did not like the town, itself, or my would-be boss, who had forced out a few previous employees over political squabbles.
Being relatively content with my boss and the community that I work for, I elected to remain where I am in both cases.
Now, I am considering applying for another position in another area community and will be keeping my eyes open and ears to the ground in the coming year for new opportunities.
The third way that the fire is being lit under my ass is related to this post. I have written on several occasions that I have a goal of adding three more titles to the never-ending barrage of self-published eBooks. These books will mostly be comprised of these posts, although edited more carefully and my frequent references to being blog posts removed.
Unless you have a high-powered corporate position like my uncle had or are a highly successful self-employed professional like my brother, or a successful doctor or trader, chances are that you will never achieve a significant measure of wealth just by collecting your bi-weekly paycheck. I know that I won’t. We are challenged just keeping up from month to month, sometimes having four thousand more go out of our account than in like last month.
The third thing as related to this post is that, like many others and possibly you, too, I need to start making some income above and beyond what is deposited in our checking account on alternate Fridays, on the same Fridays during the school year when my wife works part-time, and the forty dollars here and sixty dollars there from sales of my long-ago published eBook.
If I am not able to light a fire the first two ways, by thriving under the new regime at work or by getting a better job and new start in another community, I plan on greatly increasing my income and moving a little closer to being able to make my family’s ends meet a little better by utilizing one of my talents, my writing ability.
Pink Floyd is one of my favorite all-time bands. I say “one” because other times it is the Doors, other times it may be Depeche Mode, other days it is Kermit Ruffins or Louis Armstrong.
The first line in one of my favorite all-time songs, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, is “Remember when you were young…you shone like the sun.”
Well, I shone pretty bright in my younger days, including my first few years in the economic development field. I was working in high-growth areas in a high-growth time, and thought nothing of helping to site a multi-billion dollar corporation in a multi-million dollar office building in my early thirties.
Somewhere along the way, after many hardships, losses of loved ones, injuries, family issues and more meetings than anyone could count, the fire in my belly died out. It would be hard to pinpoint an exact date and time, but the closest that I can come to is when my father passed away five years ago this month. For many months after that, I just went through the motions. I know that that is not fair and that I should count myself lucky for having had such a great father for as long as I did, but if you want to read truth about Yours Truly Middle Class Guy, that is when the passion for my work and some other things may have left for good.
So here we are, approaching a new year with new goals and Resolutions to be made and, hopefully, not broken.
I recently read “How to Light a Fire Under Your Butt” by Jane Hwangbo, who dispensed some advice including to start “teeny-weeny.”
When people say, start small, they usually mean things like, “Call a friend and invite them to have a coffee with you.” Sound exhausting?
She urges you to start even smaller. Let’s make it a goal to put your pants on. You did it.
Decide that you’re going to stretch your body out for five minutes. Do it, and be proud.
Hwangbo writes that we’re battling something we’ve all experienced. We’ve lost confidence in our ability to do what we want to do. Don’t stress, it happens all the time. So pick an activity that depends on no one else for you to do it, takes minimal time, and do it a T. Put those pants on like you’ve never put them on before! Repeat until you feel like upping the stakes.
A general rule: she found that “Fake it until you make it,” is bad policy. The problem is, you’re always there, noticing that you’re faking it. Faking it wipes out genuine self-confidence. Your spark will blow out at the first sign of trouble.
In his blog post titled “How to Light a Fire Under Your Ass,” Chris McCombs wrote that if you’re not willing to be brutally honest with yourself about your situation and see it for what it is and if you’re not willing to face your fear, pain, and desire, and if you’re not willing to jump in headfirst and get dirty, then your chances of creating big MEANINGFUL changes in your life are dubious at best.
You see, if there’s not enough fear, pain, or desire—your reason “why” won’t be big enough.
And if your “why” isn’t big enough, it’ll be hard to get out there and relentlessly do what needs to be done.
If we are not being honest with ourselves, there’s a good chance that we will not be able to even find our “whys” in the first place, much less know what we need to do to reach it.
Both of these points apply to Yours Truly Middle Class Guy, who had become too complacent and less than honest with myself about my situation. I have played it safe for too long and have not really jumped in headfirst to get dirty until putting my thoughts, ideas and things that I have learned from others out here for anyone in the world to see.
Do these apply to you too?
If you answered Yes, let us both agree now to do our best and not to quit. Forget perfection. Decide what your number one intention is for the new year and then choose one small baby step that you can take towards it today… Not tomorrow or next week, but TODAY!
Even the tiniest of steps can create powerful momentum. As Zig Ziglar said: “Do it, and then you will feel motivated to do it.
Let us both turn the burner up a little higher under our asses, put ourselves out there a little more and strive to achieve more this coming year.