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Shooting stars must fall somewhere

by Harvey Mackay
| April 25, 2010 9:00 PM

In Hollywood - where the tinsel tarnishes fast on Wilshire Boulevard - the old adage goes: "You're only as good as your last picture." In big-ticket professions like acting and athletics, life has gotten tougher. The roar of the crowd may still be reverberating and even that won't save you from obsolescence in your present job.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times did a feature on star outfielder Johnny Damon. The Caveman - as Damon was dubbed in his Red Sox days of shoulder-length locks - moved to the Yankees in 2005. In the 2009 World Series, he was a .364-hitting, base-stealing superstar for the Yanks. Mere months later, Damon is now in the Detroit Tigers' lineup with a one-year contract, making $8 million versus the $13 million he'd been pulling down with the Yanks.

Why? Damon was re-engineered out of his paycheck when New York hammered down its costs.

Damon analyzed it for the press saying: "It's just like going to you guys and saying, 'You wrote great stories for us, you worked your tail off, but take a pay cut.' It's a little humbling ..."

"We can't do anything," the New York front office said, so the story goes. "Thank you very much," Damon answered. "I had a great time playing for you. It's time for both sides to move on."

And Damon was right. No matter what business you're in, the days of sticking around for the gold watch are gone. The bigger the price tag in your pay package, the easier it is for your organization to develop loyalty amnesia. Bosses already know what you did for them yesterday, but what matters more is what you can do for them today and tomorrow and at what cost.

For many folks in the job market, this comes as an ice-cold karate chop between the shoulder blades. Realists just take it in stride. With Johnny Damon, the Yankees' priorities changed in the face of an ever-shifting marketplace.

Most of us don't report to work at Yankee Stadium. But the laws of survival aren't much different. You may have heard of Moore's Law. It describes the continuing exponential growth of computer memory. Any task hinged on managing and analyzing data has become streamlined. This very same force is also making organizations leaner and more efficient.

Enter another reality, one I've dubbed Mackay's Law. I formulate it this way: In most companies, if there are 25 people in your department today, chances are good that number will be down to 15 in five years.

Sure, most of the folks lopped off will have jobs. But they are likely to be doing different things for other firms. Or they may be doing the same thing they star at today for other companies.

How do you put Mackay's Law to work for you? Always pay attention to your own lifetime career plan. Every three months, sit down and take stock of where you stand:

• Where is my company or organization headed? Are its priorities likely to shift? Are some big events looming on the horizon - bad or good - likely to change what it needs?

• A career path that steadily advances with regular promotions and pay raises is the perfect picture everyone wants for their resume. In truth, more and more careers won't ascend with such a smooth, shooting-star profile. Be able to explain to yourself (and everyone else) why you make each career move you make. Mull on this regularly. Don't wait to think it out until a day or two before a pink slip comes sailing your way without warning.

• What if an opportunity springs up and you can make good money as a troubleshooter and add laurel leaves to your credentials - like helping the Yankees back to their World Series rings after a painful drought? Consider seizing the moment, I say. But never lose sight that the situation is exceptional, and you and your salary may have to return to Earth at any moment.

As I've said many times, "Failure is not falling down but staying down."

Mackay's Moral: Any astronaut will tell you, when you hang out on the starscape, it's your re-entry strategy that matters most.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times' No. 1 best seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his Web site, www.harveymackay.com, by e-mailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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