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How to stay relevant in a dynamic job market and avoid slipping into comfort zone?

Raja Jamalamadaka

Last week, as I celebrated my birthday, I spent some time reflecting on the year gone-by. Four unrelated episodes played on my mind:

  1. For more than a year, my close relative has been without a full-time job. Well educated and having worked for Fortune 500 companies, he was unable to find a suitable opportunity even with 20 years of work experience under his belt. He felt really helpless.
  2. My friend, the CEO of a mid-sized company, was going through a torrid time. Apparently poor market conditions, outside his control, had brought the company down to its knees. The CEO felt helpless.
  3. With shakeups in the startup world, several startups CEO's complained to me about reduced funding leading to staff reduction: their employees seemed completely frustrated and helpless that they had to face the brunt.
  4. Few of my acquaintances, unhappy with their current jobs, were in the job market for months: they felt helpless that weak market, reduced funding and other factors outside their control were responsible for their failed job search.

Let's look at the organization trend curve

Let's start with market movements that we shall for now call - trends.

hired

A trend can be in the form of a methodology, process, technology, automation, new way of doing old things or in general, anything that changes the status quo, from the subtle to the disruptive. Every trend leads to an advancement of humanity.

Trends in the industry follow set patterns that can be represented by a trend curve. Regardless of industry or geography, at every point in career, every individual is somewhere on the trend curve. The exact location on the curve has a large role to play in any individual's career. Let's study the trend graph.

graph

Comfort Zone

During the steady state, most individuals who are riding a trend tend to slip into this evolutionary comfort zone. The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing.  Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. Individuals keep their self-upgradation limited to on-the-job learning, content with the current level of knowledge, not knowing yesterday's lessons rarely solve tomorrow's challenges. As time progresses, the trend that they are riding comes to the end of its shelf life … and now, there's trouble in the comfort zone.

“Yesterday's lessons rarely solve tomorrow's challenges”

With no upgradation or willingness to learn, individuals get caught in a rut and are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or the current one is about to die. For the few that can see a new trend catching up, the pain of having to self-upgrade and keep up with the times far supersedes the pleasure of staying on in the comfort zone.

How to escape the comfort zone?

Despite such rapid changes, how can one retain value all though one's career and adapt to changes so often? How can one keep away from slipping into a comfort-zone?

There are 4 simple yet key points:

  1. Understand where you are on the current trend curve right now
  2. Study the trend shelf life
  3. Observe what the next trend is
  4. Keep up with the trends and upgrade.

These are hardly any secrets here and there are simple choices one has to be made. All information about current trend and upcoming ones is readily available in trade publications and even on the internet. Controlling one's professional destiny requires timely upgradation of one's skills to new trends while often unlearning the skills of earlier trends.

Again thumb rules work:

 “If your current professional association isn't stretching your thinking, that isn't the right association for you.”

 The combination of the above 3 will pull you out of your comfort zones, keep you aware of every trend and prepare you for new trends in your career easily.

  1. Soft skills: Soft skills is the only trend whose shelf life is infinite. The secrets summarized by “How to win friends and influence people” apply 100 years later too. The soft skills trend is increasingly becoming vital with each new innovation: so much so that it is THE pillar on which all other trends stand. The higher your work-experience, the higher your soft skills play a role in your career success. Research shows that if a choice is to be made between two similarly skilled individuals, the one with better soft skills will win almost all the time.

“The higher your work-experience, the higher your soft skills play a role in your career success.”

Moving out of comfort zone and cultivating a habit of continuous learning are not very different from brushing teeth.  But their results are astonishingly powerful: You can realize their true value when you hear others express helplessness about the next downturn, quibble about the change or spend sleepless nights worried about the next exits while you relax in peace knowing that you are prepared.

What if you DON'T feel like reading books related to your subject matter, hate attending trade events or dislike this whole mentor business? Well, then you are in the wrong profession and it is time for you to listen to Steve Jobs.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it, keep looking for it. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, You'll know it when you find it.”

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