It may seem odd to be talking about starvation at a time when most of us are indulging in an abundance of holiday food, but the starvation I’m referring to has nothing to do with what we consume by mouth and everything to do with how we nurture our professional growth.
As I write this column (the week before Thanksgiving) I know there are business professionals who hunger for a little time and space to reflect on where they are in their lives, just as people in third world countries hunger for a bowl of rice. The difference is that for the professionals the starvation is self-imposed.
The saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,” finds pathetic voice in Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.
As she did in her previous book, Nickel and Dimed, this cultural critic formulates a theory about jobs in America and sets out to “prove” it by going undercover.
This time, instead of cleaning toilets, busing tables, and waiting on Wal-Mart customers for less than subsistence wage, sheposes as a job-beggar in corporate America. She endures an assortment of career charlatans, tweaks her resume endlessly, and sits through a series of demeaning networking experiences, all for the opportunity to sell insurance or cosmetics on straight commission with no benefits.
Unlike the frog who failed to realize he was in boiling water until it was too late, I fortunately became aware that I was chronically tired before the downward spiral this form of self-abuse inevitably triggers had taken me to the danger point.
The breakthrough came when I participated in a leadership program with Joan Goldsmith, where I was introduced to the self-assessment survey in the book Tired of being Tired: Rescue, Repair, Rejuvenate by Jesse Hanley and Nancy Deville (for details, see last month’s column).
It's 3:30 in the afternoon and I am writing this with a large pot of tea beside me. It sounds very civilized, except that I made the tea because I am tired, and I felt compelled to work on this column. Instead of taking a nap, I chose to take a stimulant and fall back into my pattern of overwork.
The good news is that I rarely do this any more, and when I do I am conscious of the choice I am making. For years, I just pushed through my fatigue and remained a victim of my own calendar and “to do” lists with absolutely no awareness of how damaging being a supercharged performer was both to my professional life and to my health.
Every summer at the Nauset Regional School here in Eastham, Massachusetts, the Cape Cod Institute hosts a number of important thought leaders in the fields of psychology and organizational development.
When I moved here seven years ago, I didn’t know that this exciting educational venue even existed, much less that it would turn out to be almost in my back yard, even closer than the beach!
Although the dream of finding and holding on the right job with the right company and never having to look for work again is still alive, there’s an increasing number of people who need look no farther than the contrast between their own and their parents’ employment histories to see that it is more myth than reality.
They have learned the hard way that security is no longer tied to a single company, no matter how impressive its corporate headquarters, stock price, or benefit package.
I was catching up with a dear friend, talking about all that had happened in her life since she was laid off from a company where she’d worked for many years. Although she had been restless long before the layoff, she had postponed taking action (despite my urging), hoping that seniority, a track record of glowing reviews, and being well-liked in the company would allow her to hang on for a few more years, long enough to cross the retirement “finish line.”
Today, as we all know, work comes in two basic varieties. It may be a conventional employment arrangement, traditionally known as a “job”.
Or it may take the form of a contracted service, consulting assignment, preferred vendor status, etc., traditionally known as freelancing.
When I started out as a career counselor, the job was the coin of the realm, and the complicated rituals associated with getting and keeping one took place on a strictly person-to-business level.
On the other hand, consultants, subcontractors, and other types of freelancers have always built business-to-business relationships by providing services directly connected to the needs and goals of the clients they serve. By virtue of the value added by these services, they are granted “temporary” admission to the organization.
In my experience, it’s highly unusual to find a young person just starting out who is able to recognize when his career is not going in a direction that will ultimately lead to work that is fulfilling, and who has the courage to change course early on. Josh Siegel is just such an exception.
A few weeks ago a client asked me if I'd ever watched “The Apprentice”.
I hadn't. (For those of you in the same boat, it’s a TV “reality” show where contestants compete to keep from getting fired; the winner is hired by Donald Trump at the end of the season.)
My client told me that, given the professional development work I do, I would probably find the show enlightening.
I did—so enlightening that I had to write this column in order to come to peace with my reaction to it.