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Make Yourself Indispensable in Today's Economy

By Peter Weddle
Courtesy, Weddle's Newsletter

A college economist recently opined that we have entered the era of "the disposable worker." Employers can and will toss out workers whenever they no longer need them or can find someone better. What he didn't say, however, was just as important. We have also entered the era of "indispensable talent" and that gives all of us the power to find and hang onto the job of our dreams.

To make sense of the new importance of talent, we have to first understand what it is. Contrary to popular mythology, talent is not a select skill or extraordinary accomplishment. It is not reserved for Lady Gaga and the winner of the Super Bowl. Talent is the capacity for excellence and an attribute of our species. Everyone has been endowed with the gift of talent. We all can excel.

Why is excellence now indispensable to employers? Because global competition has meant that they are no longer competing with cheap labor. They are going toe-to-toe with other companies that are employing well educated, highly motivated workers performing at the top of their game. As a consequence, American companies cannot survive let alone prosper with workers who do just enough to get by or are content to languish in mediocrity.

Now, before you rise up in righteous indignation, I am NOT saying that unemployed people are obsolete or substandard performers. What I am saying is that everyone - those of us in transition and those of us who currently have a job - are going to have to work smarter and harder than we ever have before. Not because we've been deficient, but because our competitors are more proficient than they've ever been.

The good news is that every single one of us is a "person of talent." We all have the inherent capacity to excel. To reach that level of performance, however, we will have to take two important steps.

Resetting Yourself for the New Job Market

Whether you're 22 or 62 or anywhere in between, the formula for finding a great job or hanging onto one is exactly the same. You have to be working at your talent and at the top of your game.

What does that mean?

Your talent is the intersection of passion and practicality. It is what you love to do and do well. If you're making a ton of money but have to drag yourself out of bed to go to work each day, you're not working at your talent. If you've built a career in a field where you're competent but unchallenged, where you earn a decent living but no sense of satisfaction, you're not working at your talent.

Why is that important? Because when you're not working at your talent, you cannot perform at your peak. You may be doing O.K. today, you may even be maxing out on your performance reviews right now, but the day will come when even your best won't be good enough. Why? Because you'll be competing with people who are working at their talent, and they'll have what it takes to excel.

So, Step 1 is to do a little self exploration. Turn off the cell phone, tune out of iTunes and get to know yourself better. If you are working at your talent, great; proceed to Step 2. If you aren't, however, take the time to figure out just what is your capacity for excellence. You deserve to know. And, to have it at the center of the one-third of your life you'll spend at work.

Once you know your talent, you then have to determine which occupations will enable you to work with it. I realize that's easier said than done, but there are both private and public resources that can help. Among the former are professional career counselors and coaches while among the latter is the U.S. Department of Labor's free O*Net database, located online at www.onetonline.org.

In today's highly competitive economy, however, working at your talent is only half the answer. Unfortunately, it's possible to be in the right field and still not perform at your peak. How? By disrespecting your gift. By not providing your talent with the skills and knowledge you need to put your talent to work.

So, Step 2 is to care for your talent. In today's economy, the value of your occupational expertise is directly tied to the pace of technological innovation. According to Moore's Law, the power of technology doubles every two years. As a result, the half-life of your skills and knowledge is now down to just twelve months, regardless of your profession, craft or trade. In essence, you have to be continuously reinforcing your ability to excel - even when you're working full time or looking for a job.

Today's unforgiving economy confronts each and all of us with a choice. Will we let ourselves be designated a "disposable worker" or will we reset ourselves as an "indispensable talent?" Will we continue to do things as we always have or will we tap our innate capacity for excellence and beat our global competitors at their own game?