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Workers in the middle of a Wall Street implosion…15 Sep 2008 07:48 am

wall-street.jpgIt’s going to be a financial sector bloodbath.

The announcement Lehman Brothers, a once Wall Street titan, is filing for bankruptcy makes almost every employee wonder if their industry is safe.

Who would have thought 158 year old Lehman would ever not be a fixture in the financial world. But its future is unclear now. If the company liquidates, 25,000 workers will be out on the street.

Workers were already carrying their stuff out of Lehman last night, and one worker was quoted in the Financial Times saying, “I got a call from a senior executive and was told I should come in tomorrow, but that I should be prepared to pack my bags,” one investment banker leaving the building said. “No one knows what they are going to do, from kids in their first year out of college to senior managing directors, they are all in the same boat. It is just grim.”

And Merrill Lynch is going to be taken over by Bank of America. That means thousands of layoffs among Merrill’s 60,000 member workforce as well.

I wanted to write this post to workers who never considered doing anything else with their lives. The ones that thought they’d be working in the financial sector until they started collecting Social Security.

We workplace writers write a lot about how people are changing their jobs and trying new things, but the reality is few are able to make such a leap.

But for many of you traders, brokers and other number wizards, it may be time to start thinking about a new path. You can still use your big numbers’ brain, but you may have to redirect you career vision.

It got me thinking of Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. This guy used to sell Jell-O. Well, he was actually the vice president of marketing for General Foods.

This quote by Gioia is from my book, From the Sandbox to the Corner Office:

After 10 years in the business world, Gioia returned to the life of a full-time writer in 1992, publishing poetry and freelance pieces, but he walked away with something he says other managers did not have, creative thinking and qualitative thinking.

“Most people in business have a quantitative background, usually driven by mad power needs. Business is filled with would-be kings and a few statesmen. I realized most businesspeople don’t understand how creativity works. They think it’s wild and crazy.”

So how do you make that first step to something new?

Work/life balance consultant Mark Sincevich offers these strategies:

Stash the cash - It’s critical to save your money to cover the ramp-up to a new field.
Daily action - Start writing your plan on what you want to achieve.
Simplify - Have less ’stuff’ around and reduce the clutter. It’s much easier to change careers when you have less distractions that drain energy.
Visualize - Keep imagining how it will be in your new field.
Hang out with the can-do’s - Hang out with people who want to support you in your new endeavor and drown out the naysayers.

Alas, the highest hurdle may be your own negativity.

You have to get beyond the initial paralysis. “People say, ‘oh my god, I will never make enough money,’ or ‘I don’t know how to begin doing that’,” says Julie Jansen, author of I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This.

How do you begin even exploring a life long career dream?
How do you figure out how to make it happen?

These are two questions you need to analyze, Jansen adds. “I encourage people to dabble in it a bit before taking the plunge,” she explains. Maybe get certified, or take a part time job or volunteer in an area you’re interested in. Also, interview people in the field you want to check out, observe them, read books on the profession.

Jansen describes one of her clients who dreamed about becoming a florist and took a part time gig in a flower shop two days a week to test it out. She quickly figured out the business wasn’t for her because she hated waking up 4 a.m. in order to go buy flowers, which was a key to becoming a successful florist.

I’m not saying every employee in the financial services sector should be thinking about a new career. But, if you see little future for you in your industry, it’s time to get realistic and think about all your options. You may end up happier than you ever thought.

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