What does your normal workday look like now? What will it look like in a year?

That second question stumps everyone, but we all know it will be different. Employees and employers have no easy way to determine where they will be or how their markets are reacting. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us how interdependent we are with each other and even across industries and countries. When we run into a challenging situation like this, sometimes it’s best to pivot into your strengths.

Let me share a bit more. This will be a bit more personal story, but hopefully a useful lesson.

Black king toppled by white king on chess board.
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Rocky Roads

Even as a remote work expert, 2020-2021 proved far more challenging than I ever expected.

By the start of 2020, I found my unique niche where I could serve others. I was one of a small group of people with a popular book on remote work for IT teams (probably how you found my newsletter). I appeared frequently in regional and international conferences and meetups to share my experience. With this niche carved out, I started my own business in early 2020 after consulting through other organizations for years. I truly enjoyed working remotely and helping others find success working remotely. I was ready to commit to this full-time.

Then the pandemic hit. By May 2020, everyone became a remote expert and offered free events. A good pivot for them and an exponential increase in competition for me. I tried a few different pivots to keep the business going. Nothing was working. I spoke to many fellow independent consultants over the year. Nothing was working for them either. Many companies stopped all outside consulting to see how the business environment would settle. I don’t think that will happen as we approach the end of 2021.

By April 2021, I decided to go back to a full-time position. However, my job search context evolved since I’m well into my 50s. I quickly discovered the impact of ageism in the job market. In many cases, the automatic tracking systems (ATS) would catch and hold my resume, and roughly a week later I would get the “we’ve decided to pursue other candidates message” without an interview. Roughly half of the companies didn’t respond. I watched my comfortable money cushion deflate to a very uncomfortable level.

When I’ve faced difficult times in the past, I’ve always tried to play to my strengths. However, in very difficult times, you have to remind yourself of those strengths or get the help of others to remind you.

Practitioner more than Theorist

I’ve always valued being a practitioner over a theorist. Most things I recommend I have tried myself or I’ve conducted detailed interviews on how a specific concept worked for someone else. If it hasn’t been tested, I’m reluctant to suggest it.

With this in mind, I’m also an experimenter. So I experimented with many tools to aid communication and collaboration. In some cases, I’ve even spoken to the companies to find out more about the product and where it may be headed. (If you want to hear more about those tools, let me know.)

Collaborator more than Guru

I’ve always valued working with others, getting different perspectives on the work, and using those perspectives to ensure we deliver value. I gave up on playing the hero long ago. I’d rather work in a pair or a team and deliver better work for all (customers and team).

This is one of the reasons I’m always building my network. I’m asking myself questions like: - Who do I connect with people on certain topics? What is a different perspective that they bring to the work? Do we have a shared vision for the work? How might we complement each other? Can we have fun working together? (More important that people realize.)

This was how I ended up at certain companies, writing a book with Johanna Rothman on Successful Distributed Agile teams, and now working on a book with April Jefferson on coaching, working, and living with an open space mindset.

Perhaps, one way to sum up my strengths is I’m always willing to stretch if I make new connections with people and concepts.

If you caught my session on Mentorology 101 or saw my latest blog post, this was a different kind of pivot to help someone promote their new book. But it also helped me rethink some of the advice I’ve given to others about their careers.

Matching Unusual Opportunities

There still were some positives. I did have some successful interviews. All were through my network and bypassed the normal hiring pipeline. It was with people that knew me and knew my work. Some did not work out because it still wasn’t a fit. That’s ok. I didn’t want favors, just opportunities to contribute to products and services where I could support their vision.

However, one position came up that allowed me to connect with a different type of work I’m very excited about. The work is remote and there is much I can contribute there. I get to work with a friend and that’s always a bonus. Best of all, there is an emerging vision for the organization that can lead to a much larger impact outside the organization. It could be a nationwide impact and possibly even global. There is also much I can learn from my new colleagues. These are all key criteria for me.

It was an unusual opportunity that found me because I pivoted into my strengths and kept reaching out through my network.

Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll share more about the new gig. Let me know if that’s interesting.

Also, I want to recognize two people in my network who helped make this story possible: April Jefferson and Johanna Rothman. Thanks for supporting me on this part of the journey.

Hope that helps,


P.S., I hope this gives you some inspiration to reconsider your strengths and how you may use them in new ways or in challenging times. If you’d like some help. Let me know.

P.P.S., I’m still going to start the book club where we read through my book. I just had to delay that because this unusual opportunity came up very quickly. If you would like to read and discuss From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams with me, let me know. I’m looking to start in mid-January 2022.