Let Me Ride.
I haven’t posted on this site for going on two years, now, as I’m sure absolutely no one noticed, as evidenced by its recent inclusion on several top 2019 HR and recruiting blogs, despite the fact that I haven’t actually posted anything on here in 2019.
Not that I’m complaining; I’ve been that completely inexperienced junior marketing guy responsible for compiling listless listicles for B2B content before, which is just about as sexy as it sounds, really.
I’ve probably read more blog posts about recruiting and work than just about anyone by now, which is probably why I’m such a douchebag.
Hey, you’d be too, if you had to read the same regurgitated, recycled and repurposed garbage that passes for “content marketing,” particularly when that content is focused on an industry that’s objectively kind of boring, and where “innovation” and “disruption” are ubiquitous buzz words bandied about, but the status quo remains stuck at the same place it was at (more or less) as when the decade began.
As this decade ends, I thought a little introspection was in order, considering the fact that I’ve spent more or less the entirety of the past ten years doing, well, pretty much the same shit.
This involves traveling to speak at recruiting industry events and trade shows, although in the last ten years, the gigs have gotten way better. In 2010, my first speaking gig as part of Monster’s corporate communications and PR team involved presenting in the reception room of a community center in Hammond, Indiana; on the plus side, I got to stay in Gary, and lived to tell the tale.
It got better after that, though; a couple weeks later, I was booked for an “educational breakfast” at a harness racing track in Chester, PA, conveniently located right next to the Philadelphia airport, a state prison and a sewage treatment plant.
By 2011, though, I knew I’d made it, as I’d already graduated to working career fairs at Westin properties in the areas hardest hit by the Great Recession, and there’s nothing like spending the day capturing interviews with the long term unemployed in the Fresno Sheraton to make you realize that having a job really isn’t the worst thing, even if it’s, you know, this.
And this is what I’ve been doing ever since. In ten years, I’ve gone from a writer who’s just in recruiting until getting my break to writing about recruiting and realizing that my break is probably never going to happen. This is as close to a career as I’m going to get, a thought that’s depressing, but oddly reassuring, in a way.
I’ve spent most of the last ten years being unable to move away from being considered a “content guy,” despite my move from publishing to professional services, my proximity to product, propensity for technology and relatively extensive experience with not only TA tech startups, but VCs and PEs that fund them on product advisory, M&A strategy and market intelligence.
At this point in my so-called career, I have to come to terms with the fact that, despite everything else I’ve done, despite all the knowledge, relationships and relative influence I’ve accumulated, I’m always going to be, more or less, just a content guy.
That’s because I’m cursed with being able to write. Like all good writers, I absolutely hate the act of writing. I’ve got to admit, most of my days are spent in some sort of existential crisis of confidence and self doubt.
I used to deal with this by having carte blanche to say what I wanted, write about what I wanted (as long as it tangentially dealt with the world of work) and knowing that there was an audience who actually read the spurious shit I put out on a semi-regular basis.
Editorial control was a beautiful thing, and I leveraged it to do some meaningful work, even if it was, well, still creating content. I felt like I was making a difference, at least in the world of recruiting – I sourced leads, scooped stories and broke news.
Best of all, I built a readership on the back of biting OpEds that provoked strong enough reactions where I likely became the most hated person in the recruitment industry this side of Marc Cendenella and Mr. Robert Half. Being a heel was a hell of a lot of fun; so too was having complete editorial control written into my employment agreement.
What’s The Difference?
The problem with this approach, however, was that even as readership and sponsor revenue increased, my salary did not. At one point, I shit you not, I found myself backstage before giving a keynote in front of around a thousand TA leaders at a strategic recruitment conference moving around funds so that I could get my electricity turned back on.
That night, I ate a hundred dollar steak at a sponsor dinner, and the next day, threw back a nice Rioja in first class, only to have my debit card declined while trying to pay for parking leaving the airport.
The next week, I went to one of the country’s most exclusive ski resorts for another vendor boondoggle, and during a networking event held at a five star restaurant on top of a mountain, received a text telling me that payroll was going to be a little late that week, followed almost immediately by another one alerting me that I’d just overdrafted and had a checking account balance several hundred dollars in the red.
That night, I had to figure out what was really important to me; making a statement, or making a living. Creating content that I cared about, or cranking corporate copy for cash. Well, obviously, quality of life is way more important than quality of content.
So, I moved from being something of the enfant terrible of recruiting and hiring to a content role at a global company with tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue. I knew I’d have to censor myself, somewhat, and that I’d lose a little bit of cache and a ton of self respect doing so.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned – even if it’s took me 10 years – it’s that sometimes, you have to grow up.
And that’s really what I intend to do, moving forward. I’m getting too old for graphic tees and baseball caps; that’s not me getting corporate, that’s me being self-aware. So, as Jay Z once said, “I don’t wear jerseys, I’m 30 plus; give me a crisp pair of jeans, homie, button up.”
If you see me rocking the occasional sportscoat or slacks in 2020, don’t be surprised; I’m trying to move onto the next part of my career, the one in which I’m tired of not being taken seriously for superficial reasons, and where I want my work to stand for itself, rather than having to rely on a whole lot of spurious schtick.
I haven’t written on here since I joined my current company because I was told, even though it’s not work related, and completely separate from my role or brand related responsibilities, that anything I write on here could be used against me at work, up to and including getting fired.
And, since I started this site to get a job, continuing to populate this didn’t really seem worth the risk. So, I stopped – and the reward has been, well, I haven’t gotten fired yet. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.
Maybe I’m trying my luck. Maybe I’m playing with fire. But I’ve gotten to the point where I actually have some stuff to say (saving the substantive stuff for subsequent posts after I’m satiated on self-indulgence) – and need an outlet to do so, which I’ve been sorely missing since my self-imposed retreat from Snark Attack.
That’s not to say I haven’t been writing a bunch. It’s just nothing either of us would find particularly interesting, and I’d rather it remain anonymous or under someone else’s byline than burn brand cache on disposable tripe about the importance of total talent or the business case for outsourcing your services procurement function or blah blah blah blah blah.
But while there’s a risk involved in my returning to personal blogging, I’m going to minimize those as much as I can by, you know, being more adult and stuff. Now, I’m not becoming some corporate shill or yes man, although if I were willing to do so, my career would be a lot further along than it was now.
But I am going to keep it real, and my reality is that I can’t blame the industry for not changing in the past decade if I’m not willing to change things up on my end, either.
That would just be hypocritical, and that’s the one thing I have always strenuously tried to avoid as studiously as I have always courted controversy. And if that really did anything for me, long term, I wouldn’t still be writing about recruiting at this point.
He who forgets the past, they say, is condemned to repeat it. And the thought of another 10 years of this makes me want to slit my wrists.
The Next Episode
The bad part about around this long is that I’ve officially gotten old. In the last decade, I might have gotten bored with the repetition of covering recruiting best practices, cynical about the state of our industry and skeptical about the future of talent, technology and work.
But that boredom belies the fact that I know this industry inside and out, and whether I like it or not, I’m going to be around for a while – hell, I’ve still probably got a couple decades or so of content purgatory left.
That’s why I’m going to be changing my game up a little bit; I want to be less antagonistic and more analytical. I love style, but have to make it subservient to substance (present post excluded) if I’m going to make any sort of meaningful impact on the conversation or the direction of our industry. In other words, I plan on picking my battles more carefully, and trying to make allies instead of adversaries, as a general rule.
It’s going to be hard. But being frustrated at being constantly suppressed by a giant corporation and its policies, procedures and politics doesn’t mean I have to sanitize my thoughts. I just have to present them in a way that makes people care and share a little more, and swear a little less.
It’s just a better look at this age, as much as it pains me to admit it. So, I’ll continue to believe it’s better to be right than liked, that content is best when there’s a little controversy, and that contrarianism is more interesting than consensus. But I also believe that the biggest thing keeping me back is, well, me.
Hey, even Dre had to stop being the stick up kid in NWA shouting “fuck the police” at some point and appeal to not only the margins, but also the mainstream, too – particularly when he declared bankruptcy in the wake of his NWA success due to bad business decisions and legal expenses accrued from a litany of charges that were better for his gangsta brand than his gangsta rap earnings potential.
Ultimately, selling out to the man worked out pretty well for Mr. Andre Young, who, as you might know, had a payday from Apple worth well north of a billion dollars. Turns out, things just ain’t the same for gangstas. And maybe that’s OK.
While I’ve been beat down by having to do this beat, it’s probably time to reconcile myself with the inevitability that no matter how much I evolve in my career, or how much experience or exposure I gain over the years, at this point, I’m here because I’m a writer, and writers have to write.
Consider this a start.
Editor’s Note: Yeah, I still can’t help using hip hop theming on posts – and .gifs are still the greatest thing ever invented, so things might not be the same for gangstas, but sometimes, you gotta keep it OG.