On Being Grounded

Career discussions that focus on job options and lifestyle choices frequently involve a brief mention of the importance of "being grounded": to have a home base, to be able to define what your core skills are, to know how your skills "stick."

But grounding isn't always good. Sometimes it's necessary to go out of your way not to do it.

I was reminded of this last night on my way home in the New York subway system. I started out taking the R train out of Prince Street. There was a cluster of Wall Street bankers, and they were talking quite loudly about the benefit of the recession to smaller financial services firms: from their perspective, these firms will be the lucky beneficiaries of the recent layoffs at Bear Stearns and other banks. I resisted the urge to interrupt and question whether this might also be an appropriate time for laid off employees to consider market sectors outside of the financial industry--market "pockets" where hiring projections outnumber pink slips and a deep talent pool. Given the sheer market numbers (and the widely reported statistic that every laid off Wall Street employee ultimately affects three other positions), I couldn't help but think that contemplation of alternative industries which use similar skills might also be useful. For example, I would imagine that a former communications VP on Wall Street might transition into a position in new media uptown: both are fast paced work environments, and I've heard that there's a shortage of senior management talent in this young industry. (This tip compliments of a career fair on Interactive Advertising sponsored by 212).

When I arrived at 42nd Street to transfer trains, I lost sight of the i-bankers and focused on the platform as I discovered subway workers on the train rails--picking up trash, using rakes, and wearing headlamps. I was uneasy, given that:

The men on the tracks finished their work, but one worker stayed behind on the platform. I asked him about the live rail, and he gave me a quick crash course in how to avoid it: if you touch it, it won't hurt you unless you are grounded. If you're touching metal (in other words, if you are "grounded" to something else on the subway floor or to an object)--you'll be gone before you can blink an eye. He said the key was knowing the danger, and taking good care to avoid it.

Score one for the importance of taking care to "not be grounded" in New York.

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