“What has this period of transition (if you’re a job seeker) taught you about yourself?”

Yesterday morning, at a networking event I was hosting, I challenged a group of transitioning professionals to think hard about what they’ve learned during their weeks or months of unemployment — both about the process of job hunting, in general, as well as about themselves.

My own personal belief is that the deepest insights (good or bad) we have about ourselves tend to come during the tough times, when we’re facing adversity, versus those periods in life when things are perfectly swell and we’ve got everything under control.  So while I doubt most of us will voluntarily quit our jobs and thrust ourselves into difficult situations, simply to pursue self-enlightenment, these insights are going to happen automatically when you’re going through any type of difficult transition period — so you might as well harvest them, while they’re fresh, instead of letting them drift by unnoticed!

On that note, four of my group participants have responded thus far with answers to the question I posed.  So without further ado, let me copy their words of wisdom below for your edification…

TRANSITIONING PROFESSIONAL #1:

“I’ll answer your question about what this period of transition is teaching me.  I’m finding that in many ways I’ve let the last 10 years of starting a family and having the ever-increasing responsibility, pressure, and time required by my career bury or restrict at least my conscious consideration of my underlying values and goals.  While transition such as this is difficult, I am seeing the side benefit of having some time to reflect and hopefully strip away some of the habits and comfort that may not be necessarily bad, but also may not be how I most want to spend my time and life.”

TRANSITIONING PROFESSIONAL #2:

“Earlier today you asked what this period of transition has taught me about myself.  I’ve thought about that at length.  My first thought is that it’s crucial to maintain a sense of humility, as this has probably been the most humbling experience of my professional career.  I believe that many people at Microsoft, myself included, have a sense of arrogance/superiority that is misplaced.  This may be even more true for the younger set at MSFT.  For me, a renewed emphasis on humility may be one reason why I decided to go to a third-world country this year, to visit some less fortunate villagers and engage directly.

I’ve also reflected on what I’m good at and what’s a challenge for me.  For instance, I haven’t been passionate about technology for years and am not particularly comfortable with software.  Yet, I worked at Microsoft for over a decade.  As we’ve discussed, my comparative advantage is in strategic analysis and I’d prefer to find a role that blends this advantage with account management.  Keep your fingers crossed!”

TRANSITIONING PROFESSIONAL #3:

1.  The co-workers, who you thought were your friends, are not.
2.  The spouse, who you thought was not very supportive of you, really is.
3.  The kids, who see you as a portable ATM machine, really do care about you.
4.  Your extended family, while maybe not as understanding, is willing to give you a break.
5.  The people who I have met at networking events, especially the Career Horizons SAFE group, are an awesome bunch.  I am humbled to be in their presence.
6.  Even during some of the darkest times, the sun does come up each morning.  It’s just hard to see it sometimes in Seattle.
7.  I have learned to depend on others and ask for help, although I probably could use even more work in this area.
8.  Being unemployed does not have the stigma that it did when I grew up.  The stigma is in my mind.  Other people are just glad they are not in my shoes.
9.  Believe it or not, I am a better person now because of this time. I am humbler, friendlier, less guarded, and more genuine and I have a better perception about myself.  I see myself with the same values that I have always had, it is just that this time I am approaching life from a different perspective.  There will not be any more blind corporate loyalty.
10.  Most of all, there is a little boy and girl in my life who think I am the best thing since sliced bread.  Every picture I get of them makes me realize how special the world can be.

TRANSITIONING PROFESSIONAL #4:

“My big lesson from this experience is simply this: All things hinge on networking, and until you actually need to hunt for work (unless you’re a networking-dependent type person, like a salesperson), nobody networks!

I know that this is the cop-out revelation that you’ll probably receive 20 copies of from other people, but it seems to be, by far, the most impactful.   To that end, I’m kind of like Don Corleone, in the Godfather.  I will remember and make it a priority to reward the services of those that help me today.

I’ve also had some very humbling perceptions that I don’t quite understand – and really won’t be able to confirm until I land a new job.  One is the sense that managerial and leadership experience seems to take a backseat these days to industry-specific experience.  Again, I’m not sure that I understand this one (or even perceive it correctly) but I see a lot of ‘leadership’ roles, especially at the Director level, that ask for 10 years in a specific industry, but only 3 years of management experience.

As a guy with 2 degrees in management and over 25 years of tough operations experience, this doesn’t make sense.  If I had proof positive that the business environment really has changed that much – and runs better following this formula – then my ‘learning’ would be that I’m out of touch and I would probably fear age discrimination.  But until I see that, I have to believe that this is not the case and that top-notch companies are still differentiated by top-notch leaders, at any age.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that constant study and adaptation is necessary to move one’s career along.”

Thanks to all four of you for sharing your insights — and if anybody else out there has had some similar deep thoughts about their unemployment journey, feel free to add them as comments below or e-mail them to me directly!  If I get enough additional submissions, I’d certainly love to post a “part 2” to this topical thread…