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The Unicorn Factor

Considering my previous life in headhunting and corporate human resources (think of a cross between The Bobs from Office Space and George Clooney in Up in the Air) I get a lot of career counseling calls. I mean, a lot. At least three every week.

Most of these calls come from well intentioned yet desperate people attempting to manage some sort of a career transition - just moved to Israel, returning to work after spending time at home with a baby, switching from finance to massage or hi-tech to gardening.

Yet they all have something in common - something that was foreign to me as a young Midwesterner, raised by parents who subscribed fully to the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-don't-complain, work-hard-at-the-same-company-for 40-years-and-then-retire philosophy. And I don't mean that the folks I counsel are living a Generation Y GYPSY life. These are both men and women from around the world - England, Australia, South Africa, the USA, and range in age from twenty to sixty.

What they share in common is that they are often so misguided that it makes me want to insert a corkscrew into my ear and twist.


Because they don't just need a job. They need a job that: (Column A)

  • Fulfills them professionally, spiritually, or both

  • Contributes to innovation or making the world a better place

  • Awards them with responsibility and decision-making power

  • Recognizes their individual contributions via both praise and monetary rewards

but here's the kicker. That same job must also: (Column B)

  • Only require hours between 8am-3pm; no night work

  • Only require English (no Hebrew, which is the national language here)

  • Allow working from home, at least partially, even if the job is within commuting distance

  • Pay a competitive full time salary plus benefits including vacation, pension and savings plan

People. These requirements contradict each other.

Of course you want a job like that.

So do I.

I want a unicorn, too.

But how can you expect a company to place serious responsibility on your shoulders if you're not willing to take a call at 8pm? If you're not willing to troubleshoot a customer issue on a weekend? If you're not willing to risk opening your own shop, sacrificing the security of a monthly paycheck, to work flexible hours? If you're not willing to commute, yet want to manage a team? You want to innovate, to elevate, to be passionate about your product/cause/project, but don't want to be "on call 24/7" to make it happen? No.

You don't get to have it all, because all of it doesn't exist in one package at one time.

You want to spend every afternoon with your children OR you want to be a CEO, complete with a CEO paycheck and prestige.

You want to head the fundraising committee at your first grader's school OR you want to travel around the country and set up new client locations.

I don't know when the assumption that we deserve to find all of these things in one job became pervasive in our culture. It's not limited to Gen X or Gen Y. I've spent the last five years managing a company of 40+ employees and have interviewed, hired and fired hundreds more in my 20 year tenure. Yet increasingly, I encounter those who are not only frustrated but honestly flabbergasted that they cannot achieve all of these requirements simultaneously.

There are times for column A and times for Column B. Before I had kids, I lived in the Column A camp and my OCD-spotless apartment came equipped with 2 walk-in closets lined wall to wall with stylish black dry clean only suits. After I had kids, I opted (not so enthusiastically) for Column B until they grew up enough for me to take on some management responsibility. Now that no one is in diapers and my life doesn't entirely revolve around nap schedules, I sacrificed the security of a paycheck (and a pension plan, and paid vacation days) and ventured out on my own. My earnings go up and down, as does my schedule. I get on the phone at least twice weekly after 8pm. Deadlines rule my schedule and sometimes prohibit my attendance at events like fourth-grader judo tournaments, or make me late to parent-teacher conferences. I have client meetings on weekends. Sometimes it sucks, but I recognized that I can't have it all, and sacrificed the things that were least important to me to get the things that were most important to me.

People, it's time to make some decisions.


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