Now What?

Your Voice Contributor

You’re a fifty-something professional who’s worked hard all of your adult life to become one of the best at what you do and to provide for your family. You have a very specialized skill set that has enabled you to be successful in your chosen field and you’ve tried to develop a reputation that speaks well of how you conduct business. This description could fit anyone reading this.

Like so many in this economy, you suddenly find yourself no longer employed. After the initial shock wears off, the question becomes, “Now what?” This is the position I now find myself in.

Oddly enough, it’s given me a clarity that I didn’t have before now, because I can compare this experience with the last time I actually lost a job, some 18 years ago.

I know not to do some of things I did back then. The first was to take it personally. This is still kind of difficult because media is an egocentric business, and while you have to develop a thick skin, there are still some layers that aren’t as thick as others. I’ve chosen not to internalize this because it gets in the way of my objective.

The second is to realize that you’re just as expendable as anyone else. No matter how valuable you make yourself to any operation, you can be replaced. The only satisfaction you can take from this is knowing that your replacement will never be as good. That egocentric thing again.

The third is knowing that, while experience is timeless, time is not. This is where a lot of middle-aged people like me find themselves. While there are some professions where your age tends to be an asset, media, historically, hasn’t really been one of them. Words like “seasoned” are wonderful for a lot of positions in the corporate world. There’s a steadiness that’s implied with older executives. In my case, “seasoned” implies “old,” and, supposedly, positions like on-air talent for radio and television “belong to the young.”

So again, “Now what?” In my case, I’m attacking the problem on a couple of fronts, as so many of us have had to do. Learning new skills has become a necessity for a lot of older job seekers, and they find themselves in occupations they would’ve never dreamed of doing. The first law of nature is self-preservation, so you do what you have to in order to survive. For me, it’s about adaptation. Something I’ve been all too familiar with for the last 35 years. In order to thrive in any business, you must continue to make yourself relevant through technological changes, business trends and the like. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve outlasted so many of my peers in radio.

I’ve told so many young and aspiring radio personalities that you have to learn as much as you can about what you do, including those areas not directly related to what you’re doing. I’ve done that. You break down every skill you have and you figure out how it applies to the job you’re looking for. The deeper the skill set, the more options you will have.

Radio has afforded me the opportunity to pursue interests that can and will generate additional income, especially if others recognize those talents. Lots of love and gratitude to Angie Fenton for seeing the writer in me. Because of her eye for talent, I’m able to be a contributor to The Voice-Tribune. This opportunity has led to one of my past articles being published in a book scheduled for release later this year.

Public speaking, television appearances, voice-over work, producing music, marketing, management, consulting and even photography are all offshoots of what I’ve done in radio. Those talents could go to the highest bidder and they can serve me as I go into business for myself.

Remember the two fronts I mentioned earlier? Another one of the mistakes I made as a younger man was in thinking that I couldn’t do anything else. It took a really long, hard look at my resume, a few minutes standing in my trophy room and most importantly, a common theme that ran through the conversations I’ve had with quite a few people who love and support me to give me the courage to really go for it.

One of the biggest questions that media personalities grapple with is, “how much of an impact have I really had?” Your ego says that you want to be remembered as one of the best that ever did it, even if reality dictates that your memory will fade from the minds of listeners and it’s on to the next one.

Another gift of being older is that you know when it’s time to turn off the microphone. As I continue my job search and taking baby steps with my company, Mark Gunn Media, I take great pride in knowing what kind of impact I’ve had here. I take some satisfaction in knowing that the name “Mark Gunn” can always mean something, even if I’m not on the air or in front of a camera.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from all of this is patience. There are days when I’ve submitted a gang of voice-over auditions, submitted a lot of resumes and done of lot leg work and feel like I’ve done nothing at all. You can’t give in to that. Keep telling yourself to believe.

Your professional life is as much about branding yourself as it is how well you do your job. You want your name to be the very next thought of the person thinking about a particular business. I’d like to think that I was successful in doing that with B-96.5 and Mainline Broadcasting. I have the confidence to know that I’ll be just as successful in my next professional life with a company that could use my talents and with my own.

Mark Gunn has worked in a variety of formats including Top 40, Rock, Urban Contemporary and Country to name a few. In 1992, as Music Director of KACE-FM in Los Angeles he instituted a policy called “Enjoyability With Responsibility,” was designed to remove songs whose lyrical content had a negative effect on the Black Community. He has received awards from the NAACP, The National Organization For Women and the California State Senate, as well as a commendation from President Bill Clinton.