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Are You Deadwood?

By Marty Nemko

Ever wonder if you’re considered deadwood? I’d feel terrible if my co-workers thought so, even if my job were secure. And these days, ever fewer jobs are.

Are you deadwood?

The more yeses, the more likely you’re considered deadwood:

1. Compared with years past, you’re working on less important projects.

2. You’ve been reassigned to a less powerful boss.

3. Your co-workers rarely seek your professional advice.

4. Your peers’ raises are larger than yours.

5. You’re not current on best practices or technology.

6. You deride those who work harder than you.

7. You’re looking forward to retirement.

What if you’re worried that you’re perceived as deadwood?

Establish yourself as a Wise Elder. You may not work 12 hours a day or know Version 8.0 cold, but your many years in the workplace may enable you to prevent and solve problems that even an eager newbie couldn’t. So, rather than compete with the young fire-breathing dragons, establish yourself as a Wise Elder. Here’s how to do it:

· With newbies or others who might welcome counsel or mentorship, say things like, “I notice you’re working on a challenging project. I’ve had some experience with that sort of thing, so if you have a question or simply would like to kick it around a bit, I’d be pleased to do that.”

· Help people, especially newbies, to network—introduce them to the power people and others who can abet their careers.

· In your memos, reports, and proposals, mention any relevant lessons you’ve learned from past experience.

· In meetings, say things like, “I faced a similar problem a while back. We tried an approach similar to what is being contemplated here, but it didn’t work. Finally, we tried YYY and it worked well. I’m wondering if we should consider trying that here. What do you think?”

Avoid deadwood’s telltale signs:

· Have good posture, while sitting, standing, and walking. Cosmopolitan founder Helen Gurley Brown was only half-joking when she said, “After 40, it all comes down to posture.”

· Stride, don’t trudge.

· Get enough sleep. Even if you have to do it in your car, consider taking a half-hour nap in the afternoon. Nothing makes you look more like deadwood than appearing tired.

· Avoid a hang-dog face. Smile as much as possible.

· Dress well. No need to look like a 30-year old, but dress smartly and neatly. Wearing an old, tight-fitting, brown suit is like wearing a sign that says, “I’m deadwood.” Often, your eyes are what make you look oldest, so wear glasses, attractive ones. If you don’t need glasses, get a pair with plain glass lenses.

· Learn something new. Be sure it’s something that you feel you can and might enjoy learning, is valued by your employer, and would be visible to your boss and others. Learning is often much easier with a tutor than a course.

Look ahead

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still feel like deadwood or others perceive you as such. In such situations, you may feel like your main priority is to avoid getting fired until you can afford to retire. These ideas might help you hang on.

Cut your expenses so you can afford to retire earlier.

Could you sell your house and move to smaller digs or a place in a less expensive location? I was amazed to learn that you can buy a perfectly nice home that, in most major cities on either coast, would cost over a half million dollars, in the fast-growing university town of Austin, TX for $100,000.

There is no compelling evidence that your child or grandchild attending a low-cost college will impede their success and happiness. As someone with a PhD in the evaluation of education and who has written three books on higher education, I truly believe there is no need to shell out the big bucks. Or at minimum, insist your child help pay the way.

Rconsider all big purchases. For example, would you really get that much more pleasure from that $3,000 plasma TV than from the TV you already have? From that flying vacation staying at deluxe hotels instead of a driving vacation staying at moderate motels? Do you really need more clothes, jewelry, or a new car?

Create an exciting vision for your retirement. That way, you have something great to look forward to instead of just dreading your current existence. For example, might you want to tutor illiterate adults? Write that novel? Create the ultimate garden? Learn how to play the piano? Get involved in a community political issue? Serve on your local school board? Become the world’s best grandparent? Renew the relationship with your spouse or child? All of the above?

But don’t assume that retirement will necessarily be preferable to working. A few months after retirement, many people wish they were back at work. Also, retirement apparently is not good for your health—the average person lives only two years after retirement. I plan to work ‘til I drop, while still trying to squeeze in the enjoyable things that many people save for retirement. For example, I had never been in a play before. So, after a few acting lessons and two unsuccessful auditions, I was cast in a community theater production of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and had a ball! I urge you to not wait until retirement to do the things you want to do.

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