Is Your Career Sustainable?

Realistic employees—those who consider their professional success from the perspective of “my life first”—have learned to look beyond the company’s promise of tomorrow. They know real success comes from active career management and an honest assessment of the “big picture.”




The pandemic has affected lots of industries, and some companies are facing reorganization, or restructuring, or even company-wide layoffs. Because of this unexpected influence on our economy, a lot of people are re-evaluating their career and job situations. Some are doing it because they want to improve their career path. Others are finding themselves forced to consider other work options because the economic downturn has eliminated their job. Hopefully, that’s not your situation, but regardless of your job status,  It’s always a good idea to evaluate your current position, as well as any new opportunities that come your way.

Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success point 360.

Integrating the idea of sustainability into career planning isn’t as straightforward as you might think…. In fact, it can be a real challenge.

In 2018, a survey done by the bureau of labor statistics told us that the average worker will change jobs — and even industries — an average of twelve times during their lifetime.

And yet, regardless of the number of times we change our employment, there is the underlying, fundamental premise that we’re boosting our career trajectory, that our need to leave one employer for another is motivated by the promise of something better — improved working conditions, more money, or greater opportunity for advancement.

But job sustainability is really about continuity.

It’s about taking the experience gained from your previous job — especially the people and business skills — and carrying it forward.

And while the goal is to increase your value with each move, it only happens when you make good decisions along the way.

Before you can make any decisions about a new career opportunity, it’s a good idea to evaluate your current situation. The best way to do that is to identify the components of a sustainable job.

I’ll break these down into two types:

The first we’ll call internal — a subjective and personal assessment of how well-matched you are to your work.

The second type comes from an objective evaluation of the marketplace, the industry that serves that market, and the financial stability of the company you work for. Typically, these are factors are outside your control, but they’re important, and you want to be aware of the state of the industry you work in.

Let’s look at the internal characteristics of a positive job choice. And remember, we’re calling these internal because they’re subjective; you decide how important each one is, and how much priority to place on any single factor. And then you make the decision – either the job meets your personal requirements and expectations . . . or it doesn’t. It’s not only a good way to evaluate your current job, but any new position you may be considering.

Here’s the first one:

Your job provides you with a sense of doing something important — something that makes a difference. This is a psychic benefit, and it’s often different for different people.  But the idea of making your time and your life count for something is an extremely strong motivator, and can often supersede compensation in priority.

So here’s the question you need to ask yourself: Do you consider your job important? Or do you think of it as procedural, boring, or a policy-driven waste of time?

Ideally, your job provides you with work that is interesting and engaging. There’s nothing worse than sitting at your desk and “clock-watching” — counting down the remaining minutes until you can finally go home.

I know exactly what that feels like, because that was my situation when I worked at Mountain Bell (and yes, I’m talking about the old phone company), where every day, at exactly 4:50 pm, the entire engineering staff cleaned off their desks, then spent the last ten minutes of the day staring at the clock as it clicked off those final, remaining minutes. Then, at exactly 5:00 pm, and not a second sooner, we were allowed to leave the office.

Granted, some employees find themselves “captives of time” by default. Maybe it’s company policy, or an unbreakable ritual because you’re compensated by the hour, or maybe it’s part of the industry’s culture. It’s up to you to decide if working under the discipline of the clock is acceptable.

The second characteristic is based on having a “big picture” understanding of what you do, and how it affects others.

Under-appreciating your current job is an easy trap to fall into.

The infrequent high points of a corporate career — receiving a bonus, a performance award, or a promotion — seldom offsets the repetition of the daily work. The endless reports, team meetings, and countless hours on the phone, typically, over time, becomes monotonous and boring.

For most of us, it can be a recipe for burnout. And it’s a common complaint among workers who become overwhelmed with the day to day sameness, the repetitive activities that require a large part of their time at work. The antidote is to step back and look at your job from a bigger perspective. Your day-to-day job activities may not reflect the actual function or result of your work.

To consider the real value of your contribution, think about how your job – and how well you do it – affects others?  Those outside the company. Those who don’t know you, and probably never will. If they knew how important your work function really was, would they thank you for it?

Let me give you an example . . . During a recent layover in the Denver airport, I met a young man on his way home to the little town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Knowing the town’s history and reputation as a government brain trust, I asked him what kind of work he did.

At first, he was a bit reluctant. But after a few more minutes of friendly chatting, he revealed he was a nuclear physicist. His job? To estimate and project the destructive effects of a nuclear strike, based on real-time global events.

Any change in a political or military situation, anywhere in the world, required new “calculations.” His input determined when and where the use of nuclear weapons might be necessary and if so, the optimum size, time, and the exact location of the detonation.

He did this for multiple scenarios every day.

He explained that “It was all math and science.” But as he began to talk about the bigger picture of his work, it became obvious that it was much more than just numbers and equations. It was his job to convert destructive yield, collateral damage, and long-term genetic mutation into a realistic picture of human loss and suffering.”

He didn’t see his job in terms of its inherent number-crunching and computer modeling. Instead, he saw himself as a stop-gap — a protective link in the chain of command.

He was responsible for turning raw, objective data into graphic descriptions of death and destruction, hoping his conversion of static math equations into realistic terms might be the deterrent that changed someone’s mind.

Even if your job isn’t that sophisticated, there are no doubt parts of what you do that impact others, and once you realize just how far that impact can reach, you can create a whole, new appreciation for what you do, and just how valuable your contribution really is.

The third component is based on the relationship you have with your employer – not only right now, but also how you see it unfolding in the future.  Ideally, when you think about the company you work for, you see an employer that offers a compelling future and has a place in that future specifically for you.

As you look ahead over the next five to ten years, your employer and your probable path to advancement should present a clear and viable route to professional and financial success.

This could be in the form of opportunities for promotion and advancement, to gain proprietary training and experience, or to profit from a clearly defined compensation program that pays you what you’re worth.

Having that clear view ahead is the first step in creating a personalized career map that is realistic and attainable, and most important, it allows you to measure your progress along the way.

That doesn’t mean things are always going to fall into place to meet your expectations, or that you won’t encounter challenges and obstacles as you move toward more advanced career goals. But those changes and challenges will happen anyway, whether you have a personal career plan in place, or decide to float along without any sense of real direction of where you want to go. The more rewarding path is to take responsibility for your professional advancement, to participate in creating your own career destiny.

The fourth criteria comes in the form of a question: Does your job environment provide a productive and socially comfortable atmosphere?

I know that some of you will find this to be less of a priority, but the environment where you spend the majority of your working life is important. We do our best work where we’re surrounded by the kind of sensory input that’s conducive to producing better outcomes.  And this isn’t limited to just physical and architectural influences. It also includes the predominant attitude and level of communication in the workplace.

It also extends to the quality of the relationships you have with co-workers.

We all want a comfortable work environment, where we can communicate openly, and perform our work without fear, or intimidation, or psychological oppression. And a lot of what goes into creating a positive, productive, and supportive workplace has to do with mutual respect and treating others with dignity. It doesn’t matter if you’re the vice-president or the janitor. The basic standards of respect and courtesy aren’t conventions we check at the door because the “work environment” provides a license for social abuse.

So if you don’t feel comfortable in your workplace, it may be time to discuss your situation with your supervisor, and if that doesn’t improve it, it may be time to look for a job with another employer that understands the value of providing a physically and psychologically safe environment.

Here’s the fifth criteria: This has to do with your personal expectations for advancement, and how realistic they are.

To leapfrog from an entry-level employee to vice-president in three years isn’t realistic — or probable.

Promotions and advancement come to those who are obviously capable and have proven themselves — often through years of experience —, so they leave little question that they are qualified to handle the responsibility. The best way to determine how fast you can expect to receive a promotion is to look at the career track of other employees. How long did it take for your manager to move up to her current position? And what about her boss?  How long did she work for the company before she was promoted? Or as she hired from outside the company specifically to take over her current job responsibility?  

The career path followed by previous employees is a good indication of what you can expect to experience. If you want to move up to a regional position within the next two years, but the timeline of most regional managers indicate they were not promoted until they had acquired ten years of experience, you may want to re-evaluate the opportunity afforded by your current employer, and if necessary, begin looking for another company that offers a faster career track into mid-management and beyond.

The last “internal” characteristic of a sustainable job is based on your commitment to your role as an “employee.”

No that doesn’t mean you’re not occasionally tempted by the entrepreneurial siren, or that you turn your back on future opportunities that are entrepreneurial in nature. It just means that you don’t immediately succumb to the idea that the grass is always greener when you work for yourself.

Unfortunately, media hype typically associates an unfulfilling work situation with those who make their living under the corporate umbrella — and they often make the point, that it comes with the territory.

However, don’t make the mistake of believing the symptoms of predictable repetition are experienced only by those who work for others. In reality, they’re typical complaints expressed by all workers — regardless of who steers the ship.

I spent 14 years in a corporate career, then transitioned to an entrepreneur. Having been on both sides of the workforce, I want to give this to you straight.

Unfortunately, the first lesson many new entrepreneurs learn is that they’ve traded corporate boredom for financial stress and logistical overwhelm. And if they lack the resiliency to handle it, they typically find themselves wishing for the good old days back at XYZ Corporation.

A temporary break to scratch an entrepreneurial itch can be devastating to a corporate career and can result in a final job position that is substantially less rewarding than would have been attained by someone who stayed on a strategic career track.

With that in mind, here’s the question every budding entrepreneur needs to ask themselves . . .

After working and investing your capital in your own business for five-years, you face a fifty percent chance of failure, does it still make sense to give up your professional relationship with a large, financially stable, and successful company?

If the entrepreneurial “bug” continues to gnaw at you, consider a side business.

This can take the form of a non-competitive consulting service, online sales of instructional material, photography services, writing, or the buying and selling of non-perishable goods through eBay or Etsy.

In all cases, your side gig should be unrelated to your main job, and there should never be any common customer overlap.

Above all, your involvement in an outside, profit-generating activity can never be revealed to anyone associated with your employer. This includes the company’s customers, vendors, suppliers, distributors, and even the UPS gal.

The company you work for must never discover that control of your time, energy, and attention is not exclusively theirs.

Up to now, the majority of what we’ve been talking about is centered on the internal factors of job sustainability. But every employee is typically going to deal with challenges that are outside your control.

Change is constant, and the need for a specific job function or position is always subject to market trends, competition, and advances in technology.

In spite of your best efforts to maintain the sustainability of your job, you are always vulnerable to the effects of restructuring, downsizing, or layoffs.

So periodically evaluate the future viability of your job by using the following external metrics.

First, Determine the value — in dollars and cents — of your job function.

The company always does what’s best for the company. Period. End of story.

Most job functions are under constant scrutiny to determine if there’s a more effective, less expensive way to accomplish it.

Never forget, no job is safe from outsourcing. Your only defense is to be constantly aware of other opportunities, making sure your first loyalty is always to yourself.

You’re especially at risk if your work falls into an area identified as most likely to be replaced by a third-party source.

For example, accounting, training, fleet management, IT work, physical plant security, customer service, legal services — and in fact, just about anything that doesn’t require face-to-face time with customers.

Never believe you or your job position is immune to the effects of restructuring, downsizing, or layoffs.

Next, Determine the long-term prognosis for your industry.

Remember when every mall, shopping center, and retail district had a travel agency?

If you wanted to buy an airline ticket, a cruise, or a two-week excursion to the plains of Africa, you sat down in front of an agent, who explained the various options and prices. You might have also paged through a stack of colorful brochures as the agent compared prices, features, and benefits of one hotel over another.

Most of those travel agencies are gone, casualties of the internet.

The same story is true for stockbrokers.

A generation ago, if you wanted to buy a hundred shares of IBM, you either called or visited your broker, who personally placed the order on your behalf. And when it was time to sell those shares, the process required the same level of personal contact with the broker.

Today, we can buy and sell securities in real-time using our own computer, without the need for human interface.

What’s the next industry on the verge of disruption? Real estate.

The traditional role of real estate agents is already in transition, with big-name players like Zillow currently building the infrastructure and processes that will eventually eliminate the conventional job of one-on-one agency representation.

In my opinion, the final nail in the coffin for the independent real estate agent came from the National Assoc. of Realtors. Earlier this year, they decided to restrict member agents from advertising agent-exclusive listing. These are typically called independent or pocket listings, and they are simply a way to sell a property without the use of MLS, and without needing to offer a co-broke to another member of MLS.  Does this sound like restraint of trade? Does this disadvantage sellers and buyers who want to negotiate commissions by using a single agent? These are good questions, and I have yet to have a seasoned, full-time, professional agent provide me with a reasonable answer that stands up to the scrutiny of free competition.

So, If you’ve realized you’re working within an industry that is ultimately slated for upheaval, learn everything you can about the new projected business model.

Then ask yourself this: Is there a place for you? Are your skills and experience directly transferable? Will your current level of talent command the same value in this new model?

Granted, this involves a little gazing into the crystal ball, but industry transitions — even in their infancy — always leave clues. And those who take action at the beginning of an industry transition, tend to be much more successful in the long term than those who wait to see how things turn out.

I’ll leave you with this:

Taking control of your career is a constant, on-going process of comparison, self-improvement, and knowing when to make a move — and when not to.

Today’s smart corporate employee knows their relationship with the company is ultimately temporary.

Sure, we talk about long-term commitment, longevity, and the value of loyalty. However, to have any real meaning, those ideas have to work in both directions.

Realistic employees—those who consider their professional success from the perspective of “my life first”—have learned to look beyond the company’s promise of tomorrow. They know real success comes from active career management and an honest assessment of the “big picture.”

Today is what counts. Tomorrow is what you must prepare for.

Hey, that’s it for this episode. If you’ll like a transcript, you’ll find one at Just click on the show notes for this episode.  If you’d like, you can leave me a question or comment on the successpoint360 website. Just click on the voicemail option in the main header, or you can send me an email at

Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

© 2020, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved                    

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