The Circle of Life

One of my favorite movies growing up was The Lion King. It was a pretty wild (no pun intended) movie with singing and dancing animals, a mandrill who talked like Yoda, and a very interesting plot. 

For those that haven't seen it (SPOILER ALERT), the king of the jungle, Mufasa, is killed by his brother, Scar, so that he could seize the throne. Mufasa's son, the rightful heir, is cast from the kingdom and the rest of the story follows Simba as he grows up and realizes he needs to take his place as the king. In the process, he meets a meerkat, Timon, and a warthog, Pumbaa, who teach him about the Circle of Life. 

Growing up, I really associated with Simba. Young, naive, ready to take on the world. 

But the thing I've come to realize is that the Circle of Life keeps on going. As much as I want to keep being Simba, there comes a time when I must be Mufasa, whether I like it or not.

So, I've been seeing a lot of chatter lately on social media about how companies have shifted their hiring practices to find the young, attractive, fit, up-and-coming millenials over more seasoned individuals.

I feel compelled to call out the myths that are being perpetuated in all of these rants. Let's address the easy issue first:

Myth #1 "These companies are just hiring pretty faces."

  • If it's an engineering company, they're going to hire the best engineers they can get to design their products. 
  • If it's a software company, they're going to hire the best programmers they can get to develop their software.
  • If it's an emergency clinic, they're going to hire the best doctors and nurses they can get to attend to their customers.

No company is going to hire someone that can't do the job or can't be trained to do the job. Period. 

And the honest truth is that every company has the right to hire the employees that will help them accomplish whatever goals they have set for themselves. It's not called charity, it's called employment. The company needs to get something in exchange for the salary they pay.

So, if someone is given an opportunity over you, the chances are very good that hiring them was perceived to be a better decision to move the company towards their goals. Plain and simple. You can argue the point all you want, but only the executive-level management can determine what the goals are and communicate them throughout the organization.

Rather than belittling the other person, what could you do differently to make yourself more marketable? Because as Malcolm X said: 

Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you're both engaged in the same business - you know they're doing something that you aren't.

I've worked with companies that do a tremendous job of providing feedback and most of them will do so when asked. The problem is many people don't really want to hear the feedback when they've been passed over; they'd much rather blame someone else.

Myth #2 "They're targeting younger folks with their marketing, but they're going to alienate all of us in the process."

The largest population of people in the country with money to spend... Why wouldn't any smart company make every effort to engage this group of paying customers?

It doesn't mean they drop all their existing customers like hot bricks, but they have to start transitioning the way they do business. 

Nowhere is that transition more obvious than in pop music. Radio stations and pop music today sound very different from the way they sounded 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Pop music caters to the biggest groups of people that are listening. It doesn't mean that music isn't made for other generations, but pop music belongs to the current generation.

(And isn't it funny how every generation complains about the pop music of future generations? I remember when older generations would complain about ours...)

But when it comes to marketing, the amazing thing is I have never heard an average consumer say "those commercials have too many young people in them" or "those posters don't have anyone my age so I can't relate". If I can be completely honest, the only people that complain are the people who perceive that they're losing opportunities. 

You want to know the way to spot a company that's handled the transition well? When the employees who really have lost an opportunity stick around with the company in a different role, it means that they think highly enough of the company to stay. Sure, they may have some sense of disappointment from time-to-time, but if the company had handled it poorly, they could easily take any other job at any other company. 

So where does this leave us? 

We all want to be the lead character in the story. Simba or Luke Skywalker. But Father Time creeps up on all of us without us knowing it and it is sobering to realize that we've been moved into a supporting role while someone else has taken the lead. Usually, it means we haven't taken the opportunities and there's some resentment.

The problem is if we spend all our time complaining about it, we may lose even more opportunities elsewhere. And ranting to anyone who is willing to listen only proves to everyone that you didn't deserve it. 

So what options are there?

If we redirect that energy into improving ourselves, learning new skills, or even changing the environment, it's possible that we may find ourselves in a lead role in a different story. 

Take the feedback with humility and make it impossible to be overlooked. A company has goals to meet. They need employees that are good team players and will help the bottom line. If you can get actionable feedback directly from the people who make the hiring decision, it gives you a clear path forward. Work hard. Be the best you can be. But do it with humility.

Redefine your definition of success. Nobody likes to hear it, but there are some things that are just not meant to be. Rather than looking at it as a loss, take whatever you can from the experience and plot a new course. Look at new skills and new interests that may excite you. Julia Child worked in many roles before her first cookbook was published at the age of 49.

Life is short. The Circle of Life keeps rolling. Why waste time being miserable? The path forward requires us to step outside of our comfort zone and find our #unsteadystate. Join the conversation below.