Date Published: 8th February 2016

How to Become Indispensable

“Use what talents you possess, the woods will be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”  Henry van Dyke

Times are tough. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs in 2015. And it’s not just the oil and gas sector – HP, Microsoft, Caterpillar, Radioshack, JP Morgan have sent thousands people home. Last month analysts reported that this year IBM may lay off a record number in its workforce. We all know there’s no permanency in the job market. There aren’t decades-long careers with large multi-national companies anymore. Career paths have become much more fluid.

“It’s a giant transformation that happened just in the last five or 10 years,” says Seth Godin, a bestselling author of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? “As we have an economy that used to make money by leveraging a factory, a system, a process, to an economy where the people who win are the ones who do stuff we didn’t expect and we didn’t ask for.”

What can help us to stay relevant? What skills can keep us afloat? How do we become indispensable?

“My super power is not being one thing, but many things,” says Annie Conn, Experience Designer at Thoughtworks, in her insightful post My Path to a Fluid Career. “I am an example of the new fluid careerist. What’s a fluid career? It’s a way through life that leverages a collection of experiences, expertise, roles/titles and spans multiple industries. Fluid careerists navigate ambiguity and are nimble. We’re restlessly driven by curiosity, have a passionate need for excellence and aspire to self-awareness.”

What Annie says makes perfect sense to me – I know this from my own experience. When I graduated with a major in Chinese language and history back in 1993, I thought that I’d be working in a China-focused international organization. Yet, my career took a completely non-linear path. I have worked in five countries in the hospitality business, government consulting, technology business development, non-profit program management and finally, non-profit fundraising.

What I’ve learned from all these life experiences is that to succeed today, you need to be flexible, continuously hone your skills, and discover new opportunities through creative thinking and entrepreneurial drive. Most of all, you should be prepared to embrace uncertainty, adapt to unusual circumstances and apply your skillset to the particular career in which you find yourself at any given time. Be a catalyst of new creative ideas and try to stay positive, because your success is in your attitude.

Quoting Godin, to be successful, you will need to become a “linchpin,” someone who can “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.” Linchpins are the people who can work with “no rule book,” people who are happy to always make their best effort to transform even mundane tasks into something remarkable.

It all comes down to simple truth – pour your soul into whatever you do. Represent your nonprofit, start-up or business in such a way that the whole world knows that you own it.

Want to test if you’re indispensable? Lolly Dascal, President and CEO of Lead from Within, gives us a hint: “Remember, the people who go around saying they’re indispensable never really are. Being indispensable doesn’t come from ego but from what others think of you as you help them succeed.

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