When your career takes a left turn — a reflection on relationships

Thirteen years ago I made a fateful decision. I’ve been thinking about how it paid off in the rich connections with people that it led to.

I was 48 years old in 2007 and determined to publish my first book by the time I was 50. I took the plunge: I made a deal with my employer, took a pay cut in exchange for a share of potential book royalties, and began to collaborate with my fellow analyst, Charlene Li, on the book that became Groundswell.

Now, 13 years later, I work out of my home office (I was here well before the rest of you all started working from home) and help authors all day long. I’ve begun to think about all the relationships that formed as a result of that radical decision to stop being an analyst, a nice steady job with a great paycheck, and become an author instead.

Start with Charlene Li. There is no way I could be here without her — her incredible ideas about social media for business, which she understood well before anyone else, and her brilliance as a collaborator and coauthor. The book launched big parts of Charlene’s career as well, but that relationship was the beginning of making me into the person I wanted to become: a professional author.

In the process of working on the book, I made connections with a group of other leading thinkers about social media, people like Shel Israel, Jeremiah Owyang, Robert Scoble, Vanessa Camones, Hugh McLeod, Lionel Menchaca, Scott Monty, Rachel Happe, David Armano, Jeff Jarvis, Dave Carroll, Steve Garfield, and many others. You could call them the Class of ’07. These were visionary thinkers, and they understood things about social media that the rest of the world hadn’t yet figured out.

More importantly for my story here, they have gone on to great success and prominence, and they know who I am. Because we were early to adapt blogs and YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and podcasts, we had a constant and continually renewed connection to one another. My book (and their books — because many of them were authors) strengthened that connection. Now that so much of my business comes out of word of mouth, these are essential connections. I help them, and they help me.

I have a book agent named Katherine Flynn. She is an essential contact of mine now. I know her because of the first book I wrote.

I work with a book cover designer named Stephani Finks. I met her through the process of designing the cover for Groundswell at Harvard Business Review Press, a beautiful cover that made our book better.

I publish articles on the HBR site. Their talented editor is a woman named Ania who I first met because she edited the revision of Groundswell. That’s another essential connection.

I’m in highly active Facebook groups for authors and public speakers. The leaders of those groups know me and respect me because of the book I published, and the books that came after that. I love those groups, but there is no way I could have made those connections without Groundswell.

Hollis Heimbouch, the editor who acquired Groundswell at HBR, is now a VP and Publisher at HarperBusiness, another publisher. HarperBusiness published Writing Without Bullshit. That is no coincidence.

The marketing person for Groundswell at HBR is now an independent book marketing consultant. She keeps sending me authors to help.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Your career may be changing. What relationships are you building?

The cliche says that it’s not what you know, but who you know. But how do you know who you know?

A lot of you are being forced to change how you think about yourselves right now. You may be out of work. You may need to develop new skills. And you may even be thinking of writing a book.

My question for you is, what connections will you create in the new future you are building for yourself?

Pay attention to those connections. Value them. Because if you’re anything like me, many years from now, those people may become the most important people in the new career you are creating.

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One Comment

  1. Right on, Josh! New careers after 50 are mind and people-expanding. Fun too! Take it from this former PR exec turned college prof.