An Entrepreneurial Approach to Careers

June 13, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I worked a graduation event at a local university. At the event, I met a woman who was providing a sign language interpretation of the commencement ceremony. We had a chance to talk and I was truly impressed with how she got her job and, essentially, built her career as a sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired.

“I had been working as an executive assistant for a number of years and then got laid off. Luckily, I had decided to take some sign language classes and had been working part-time as a sign language interpreter. I had trouble finding a new (executive assistant) job…so I started doing sign language interpretation full-time. That was 20 years ago.”

Sharp as a tack, this woman told me she was in her late 60’s. I would have never guessed. Talking with her, I was impressed at her ability to create new opportunities for herself. We talked briefly about how many seasoned job hunters experience age-ism and other perceived biases in their search. Whether this was the case or not, she was not ready to let herself become a victim of her circumstances.

Back in 1999, one of the most respected business writers, Tom Peters, wrote in his The Brand You 50 book (pg. 4) that the white collar revolution was over. He also boldly proclaimed, “I believe that 90+ percent of white collar jobs will disappear or be reconfigured beyond recognition. Within 10 to 15 years.”

Statistically, I don’t know how our country’s current job situation compares with Peters’ prediction. But there is no doubt things have changed in a dramatic way in the work world in the past few years.

Some people that have re-invented themselves in an ever-changing industry are musicians, specifically 80’s rock-n-roll musicians. These musicians are dealing not only with a changing business model, but also changing musical tastes. While some of these musicians may be perfectly content to perform at smaller venues (including neighborhood and local outdoor festivals) or disappear altogether, other musicians have created new opportunities for themselves.

One such musician is guitar player George Lynch, formerly of 80’s hair metal band Dokken. While Lynch is considered by many as one of rock’s greatest guitar players, the market for his music has changed. The days of filling arenas and outdoor stadiums may be over, but Lynch continues to put on guitar clinics around the world and play smaller venues with his band and earn a living in different ways. He has endorsed ESP guitars for more than 25 years and continues to develop his own line of guitar pickups, amplifiers, effects and guitar cables. Lynch is also working on a film project called Shadowtrain, which features a group of musicians as they visit native American Indian reservations in the southwest and explore their history and ways to improve living conditions there.

Another musician who found fame in the early 80s is founder/guitarist/manager of Twisted Sister, Jay Jay French. In addition to his work with Twisted Sister, French has recently produced music for other musicians and created The Pinkburst Project, which raised money for the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation. Later this year, French is scheduled to speak at leadership expert Steve Farber‘s Extreme Leadership Summit.

“At the end of the day, Rock and Roll is a business with universal business rules. You need to posses the ability to look inside yourself, be honest with what you see, re-invent and then re-apply. And be fully prepared to get knocked down again” — Jay Jay French

I find French’s statement to be applicable for not only 80’s rock musicians, but also for those in transition or unhappy with their current job situations. I also find it refreshing that a tribe of people such as Pam Slim, Jonathan Fields, Christine Kane and numerous others have made it their mission to help us get to a better place.

Back in the 80’s, French’s Twisted Sister proclaimed, “We’re not going to take it.” Today, as exemplified by the entrepreneurial spirits of George Lynch, Jay Jay French and countless others, we don’t need to take it, either.

How about you: have you taken steps in your life to create new career opportunities? Do you know someone who has? I’d love to hear about it…

Creative commons photo courtesy of Jason Reidy.