Virtually the entire Gettysburg battlefield is now a national park. My husband and I toured it first by car guided by an audiotape, and then we decided to revisit some of the sites by bicycle to get a closer look.
One of our stops was on Seminary Ridge, at the place where General Robert E. Lee rode out to meet three of his divisions, or what was left of them, in full retreat after their assault on the Union forces failed.
We discovered that a wide path had been mowed through the tall grass allowing us to retrace the route of the ill-fated attack of July 3, 1863, known as Pickett’s Charge. We got off our bikes and walked them in reverent silence up the gentle slope toward Cemetery Ridge.
As we made our way toward the clump of trees which served as the focal point of the attack, I increasingly felt around me the presence of legions of men who had given their “last full measure of devotion.”
When we reached the top and the zigzag in the stone wall known as The Angle, the high water mark of the Confederate attack, I turned to look back over the ground we had just covered and could see in my mind’s eye wave after wave of men moving up the hill toward certain catastrophe. The sense of waste I felt was both palpable and strangely familiar.
I thought about the clients I served in my career counseling practice and as an outplacement consultant—they were under fire as well.
In less competitive times, before a single job posting could bring a flood of applicants, an individual stood a reasonable chance of getting through to someone who had the authority to consider him.
Now, thanks to technology, companies can collect thousands of resumes and effectively screen applicants out, the equivalent of “shooting them down” before they can “engage,” i.e., get in the door and sell themselves in a face-to-face meeting.
I could see a distressing similarity between the soldier charging an entrenched position and the jobseeker trying to get past Human Resources. For both, changing times had turned it into a losing battle.
As I thought more deeply about what happened at Gettysburg, I could see in it an analogy that provided both an explanation for failure and a model for success.
The Union forces carried the day because they were alert enough and nimble enough to occupy the high ground and position themselves where they had the advantage. The Confederates lost because they didn’t. The army that won was the one that fought on the ground of its own choosing.
For me, the way forward was to teach others how to conduct their work-search from the ground of their own choosing.