Why Read Age of Agility?
Before you click the shopping cart button in your web browser or make your way up to the cash register at one of the few remaining bookstores hanging around your neighborhood (thank you for supporting your local booksellers), let me pause you where you are while you still have your money safely in your pocket. Before you move the money in your pocket to my pocket, I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into.
How do I find and sustain a career that I am excited to wake up for, am passionate about, pays the bills, and doesn’t burn me out?
This is the question I am going to answer in the next three-hundred or so pages. Unfortunately, this book will not tell you what that career is, but it will give you a good direction to start in. It will provide you with the necessary tools to navigate your life and work. I wrote this book in response to what was promised when you were told the one-word answer to having a successful life and career: college.
The biggest lie we were told is that a college education will prepare us for a lifelong career. If you go to college or put in your four years and earn a bachelor’s degree, you will have a rewarding and stimulating career with a comfortable salary and benefits. The reality is, there is a huge skill gap between the classroom and the workplace, and this skill gap is the main reason why I watched countless friends struggle post-college to find a meaningful career. I saw my friends fall into one of three groups.
The first group consists of my friends who are still struggling to find a full-time job in the field they went to school for. While they sent out resumes and cleaned up their LinkedIn profiles, an entire generation of college graduates moved back home to live with friends or relatives because they couldn’t afford to pay rent, as we are, on average, $35,000 in debt to student loan companies.
The second group of friends found full-time work using their degrees and entered a competitive, fast-paced culture their school did not prepare them for. It was trial by fire. Sink or swim. They reported to drill sergeant managers and had a hard time forming connections with co-workers. There were too many emails, too many action items, and the challenges they faced were beyond their skill level. Their schedules were unmanageable, and they had little time for life outside of work. Shortly into their college-promised career, many were burned out and questioned if they made a mistake choosing their major and career path.
The rest of my friends, representing a smaller number than the previous friend groups, discovered the skills to be successful in a career after school through their experiences in college, but did so outside of the classroom. They made connections with peers, professors, and mentors who bridged the gap between school and work. For this group, the classroom didn’t lead them to a career they love, the university ecosystem allowed them to form connections and build relationships with people who were aware of this gap and the necessity to fill it. To be clear, a university setting isn’t the only place where these connections exist. I have other friends who dropped out of school, went directly to work after high school, or spent time in the military. All of them were able to make connections in the environments they were in.
This book addresses the skill gap the last friend group was enlightened to by industry leaders and mentors. They learned skills that are not taught in school but are expected when you enter the workplace and begin your career. They also learned the skills needed to find a job that aligned their passion with their strengths, and once they landed a job, they used their knowledge and network to successfully transition to the demands of the 21st century workplace. Most importantly, this group learned how to learn. Instead of following their textbooks to the letter, they recognized the difference between book learning and practical application in the field. These friends were excited to enter a culture of curiosity where they could move with change, not against it.
Why were these things never taught to me in school?
Great question. We are living in an Age of Agility, meaning, business and industry are changing so quickly, books cannot be printed fast enough to stay current. In school, many of us were taught from outdated textbooks by professors who tried to stay up-to-date on current trends, but often could not because of all the hats they wear. As a result, we were not prepared for a career after school. Instead of placing a focus on trying to print books faster to learn hard industry skills, students should be taught how to learn so they can move as the industry moves. The skills in this book will teach you how to observe, think, and communicate effectively so you can move with change instead of responding to it.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?
If you are a recent college graduate looking for a career doing something you love, that will pay you fairly, and will not burn you out, I wrote this book for you. If you are confident, motivated, love a challenge, and can’t sit behind a desk for another year (or four years), I wrote this book for you. Finally, this book is for my peers who are displaced workers, underemployed, or sick and tired of their job(s). If I didn’t have the influence of some great mentors in my life, I would still be working next to you in West Michigan, running between two or more part-time jobs, angry, frustrated, and tired. Since you would have shared it with me, I am now sharing it with you.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?
I wrote this book with a particular structure in mind, but that doesn’t mean you have to read it cover to cover. If you are looking to only build skills in a certain area, feel free to flip through the table of contents and find what tool you want to learn. If you want the full experience, here is a roadmap of how the book is structured.
The book is composed of small bite-sized chapters intended to be read slowly so you reflect on the content in each section. To set a tone of reflection and contemplation, my first chapter is about carrying a notebook. As a student of life, having a journal or notebook is critical when learning new topics because it externalizes your thoughts, which helps you process, make connections, and ingrain new information into your life. After the chapter on journaling, you will learn the foundational skills the rest of the book is built on, hence the name, “Laying a Foundation”. You will learn about how to deal with change, talent barriers, and failure, because how you respond to these three topics is critical to your success.
Next, you will learn how you learn. Since we all see the world differently, knowing how you learn, how to work with others, and how much information you can take in at once will propel you forward in your career. These chapters will prompt you to think about your strengths and weaknesses, and with this knowledge, you can start thinking about what you want out of life and where you could be most successful. For example, do you want to be a leader, or did it ever cross your mind that you don’t have to be a leader to be successful? In the sections that follow, you will learn ways to brainstorm possible career choices by looking for the intersection between where your passion meets your skills. The goal isn’t to have a career pinned down at this point, but to at least have a direction you can start exploring.
Once you have a direction, you will learn about what motivates you, so you can create small, manageable goals. You will also learn how to manage your time, yourself, and strategies to get in gear if you can’t get started. Most of your goals will include other people, so Part 1 ends with learning how to build and manage relationships. The tools in this section include emotional intelligence and empathy-driven communication.
If that sounds like a lot, you’re right. Part 1 is the largest section, and provides the necessary foundation for Part 2: Building Structure. Part 2 takes the foundational skills in Part 1 and builds structure around them by showing you how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day life. In this section, you will learn how to intertwine your new foundational skills into routines and daily habits. You will learn about a model devised to help you sustain these skills and balance them amongst each other. The model, called the Dock Model, is the ultimate work/life balance tool to managing your personal life and career. The model covers how managing your health can improve your mood and productivity; how practice works; the benefits of play as adults; and how to use reflection as a check-in for your goals and career path.
In Part 3, Reinforcement, you will learn how to excel in the career path you have chosen by fine-tuning the soft skills you learned about in Part 1 and 2, as well as many other workplace-specific skills. These include: mentoring, interviewing, working with tough colleagues, and
what to look out for in a company (cult)ure. The rest of Part 3 is about skills and tools you didn’t learn in school that are necessary to bridge the gap to the workplace and help you thrive in your career. These are: blogging, creating a productive workspace, building the right kind of confidence, combating overthinking, learning a lot quickly, and how using a budget will give you more control over your future. Finally, I end with the four rules I keep in the forefront of my mind to guide my thoughts and behaviors at home and work.
My goal for this book is to add immediate value to your life, and this value is two-sided. I hope to introduce new skills and concepts to you AND acknowledge the tools you already know but might need a friendly reminder to start using again. My sincere hope is to reframe how you see yourself and your career, so you can be successful in both.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
Warning! Do not read this book all at once.
Many of these chapters started as blog posts and were intended to be consumed as single servings. If you try to read this book all in one sitting, you will miss something or get a headache. Probably both. My advice is to read one chapter a day, so you have time to reflect on and interact with the concepts introduced in each section.
I cover a little about a lot. This is a big picture manual for you to dig deeper with, and that’s why I have included a suggested reading and listening list at the end of the book. You can think of this book as a toolkit and if you do, I hope you are also thinking about building your own personal toolkit as you read. A good toolkit will prepare you for tough projects and unforeseen circumstances. When the excrement hits the air conditioner (this is not an if, it is a when), you will be able to evade panic and conduct yourself from a place of ease and comfort. I think Stephen King said it best in his book, On Writing:
When the screen was secure, Uncle Oren gave me the screwdriver and told me to put it back in the toolbox and “latch her up.” I did, but was puzzled. I asked him why he’d lugged Fazza’s toolbox all the way around the house, if all he’d needed was that one screwdriver. He could have carried a screwdriver in the back pocket of his khakis.
“Yeah, but Stevie,” he said, bending to grasp the handles, “I didn’t know what else I might find to do once I got out here, did I? It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.”
With a box full of tools, you will be prepared for anything that comes your way. This also means you should take out tools from time to time and make sure they are sharp and polished. After some time has passed, go back over the skills in this book (or dig deeper with the suggested reading and listening) so you can stay current. When Benjamin Franklin was 20 years old, he developed a system of 13 virtues for character development. He would spend one week on each virtue and when he finished number 13, he would start back at number one. Doing this, he would cycle through the virtues four times a year. Likewise, interacting with the skills in this book regularly will keep them in the forefront of your mind so they are readily available when you need to use them.
Finally—and this should go without saying, but let me give you permission in case you need it—this is your book, so get rough with it. Feel free to dog-ear sections, highlight passages, and take notes, adding your own experiences to the text. Far too often we hold books on a pedestal instead of using them as the tools they are. If you want to respect a book, use it and get wild with it—that’s why the author wrote it.
If any of this sounds like it is up your alley, I would be honored if you bought my book.