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Monday, 15 July 2019

I've finally worked out who I am. I'm Woody. From Toy Story.

Have you seen Toy Story 4?

Well you should, as well as the other 3 in the franchise. 
Yes I know that sounds bossy but they are just so good. I agree with the critics that TS4 is the best, and no I wasn't sniffling at the end, it was the air conditioning in the cinema causing my eyes to water, I'm sure it was.

The Toy Story narrative works on so many levels, for kids and for adults. I have nothing but admiration for the script writers. I read that they are never afraid to just dump whole story lines or even entire plots if they don't meet their exacting standards. No problem with sunk costs in Pixar. Kill your darlings is very much front of mind and, of course, it shows in the standard of film that results. The franchise has gone from excellent to perfect.

What resonated for me, and I'm sure for many coming up to the end of their careers, voluntarily or otherwise, is Woody's overwhelming desire to not become obsolete, boring or special as a toy and not being able to attract the attention of a child anymore. Of course there's a lot more going on in the script than that but, essentially, it is that fear that defines the movie.

I see in that the role of a job. There comes a point in everyone's life when you have to leave the stage (not in that very, very final way we hope for a long time) but we have to retire, leave the job, leave the role we had for...well, a new, as of yet undefined role. Woody faces this as he meets back up with his great friend Bo Peep who has left the world of children and being a cherished toy to become self sufficient, finding herself a new role in the world. 'Who needs a kid's room when you have all of this?' she says looking over a huge fairground. Woody battles with this conflict. What is he if he isn't that child's toy anymore? Is he defined only by that? If he is not that, then what is he?

It's hard losing your job at anytime and even harder as an older worker. And hard having to take a lesser role, as most do, just to get back into employment. I'm sure for many there's a sense of resentment at having been put in this position by The Man. But game face on of course.

If you've caused seas to rise and civilisations to fall, I am using an metaphor here naturally, then the prospect of that 'fall' is daunting. I have an acquaintance, a senior manager, who was strongly 'encouraged' to leave their organisation of 30 years because they were too O.. No they didn't use the 'you're too OLD' phrase, they are after all a respected and multinational employer (but of only young people it appears) and the HR department too wise to get caught in that particular employment tribunal but that's what it came down to and there are many legitimate ways to make employed life difficult as HR know (don't you). Now unemployed for over a year that acquaintance is struggling with their revised place in world as a result. They have bought a new car, an expensive marque, even though they do few miles at the moment, because they cannot give up that sense of assumed prestige that they believed the previous role gave them. Of course it's only in their head, nobody else is interested.

But it is important, as Bo Peep has already found and Woody comes to realise, that you have to redefine what you are or be stuck in something that has moved on without you.

Those who are older and have been long term unemployed naturally want to regain their footing in the workplace, retain a sense of purpose, still want a challenge, want to do something worthwhile and which have outcomes they identify with. Digging metaphorical holes and filling them back in again day after day is not fulfilling. As we go through life our needs and wants change. When we are younger we are building our careers and as older workers maybe we start reflecting and thinking of giving back, working in an industry we really care about or downsizing. But that doesn’t mean switching our brains off. 

That sense of accomplishment is essential to a healthy, rewarding work experience and positive outputs for the employer. If we don’t feel pride and forward momentum in the tasks we tackle and our own development we will end up becoming less creative, productive and engaged in our work.That doesn’t help the employer achieve its goals and it can further damage our chances at landing the opportunities and roles we want.

So...I have become Woody. I understand that I will may never regain my senior management role (but please do feel free to call anytime with offers), I have redefined my purpose (and podcasting is part of that as is the pro bono work I'm happy to do, the travelling I've done and will continue to do). I believe I have moved on.

'Who needs a kid's room when you have all of this?'

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