Work is the curse of the drinking classes. — Oscar Wilde
During and right after the Great Depression (roughly 1929-1941), we passed a work ethic on to our children that became gospel. Work is good. It gives you money. It defines you. And it separates you from the undesirable elements in society: bums, drunks, and the altogether listless.
Those of you of near retirement age, as well as viewers of the TV series Mad Men, are aware that in the 1960s, America started to experience a sea change in its attitude towards work. Employees no longer had to feel thankful they had a job. They were able to relax from an outlook of obedience and a feeling of being dispensable. Employees became important. Many of them joined unions. Some of them won lawsuits against their employers. In 1985, the word “intrapreneur” was coined. Now a creative employee could nurture a product and from idea to marketplace without leaving his firm. As America’s economy grew, firms came to lure workers with higher pay, inventively structured fringe benefits, and retirement plans.
Since the 2008 recession though, America has witnessed a throwback in its attitude towards work. Workers consider themselves lucky to have a job. Holding on to a position has become more important than asserting one’s self in the workplace. And changing jobs is not all that easy anymore, since employers are besieged with thousands of résumés online for every available job. Welcome to the 21st century’s buyer’s market for labor!
You still live in The Land of Opportunity.
Where does this leave you? Should you ratchet down your ambition, just to hold on to a job you don’t like? Should you give up on any hope for change in the job market? Or should you throw in the towel and retire early?
The good news is that you don’t have to do any of this. This is America. Regardless of the onslaught of Asian competition, or the hollowing out of the economy, you still live in The Land of Opportunity. Here are four tips to help you climb out of your morass, and push on to the next level for more fulfilling work.
Stop Reading and Listening to Bad News. Seriously. Do you really care whether the national unemployment rate moved up 1% last month? And why are you concerned about the bad news in an industry that has nothing to do with your work? You’ll be surprised how your attitude will improve once you stop rationalizing your own individual finances by taking in news of the economy at large. You’re a worker with years of experience who can provide value — not a statistic.
Refuse To Hook Into The Job-Hunter’s Mill . What? You sent out 60 résumés last month and phoned 25 recruiters? C’mon! Cut it out! Nobody will ever read any of them. And those recruiters won’t answer you. You might have thought you made an effort. But you were simply being busy — and passive.
Here’s a Better Way. Make two lists. Make a list of everything you’ve done and everything you can do on the work place. Think hard about this list. Once you develop it, you’ll have a working reminder of the value you offer to a potential employer. Now make a second list. This will be a list of the people who could possibly hire you based on the first list you developed specifying the value you offer. Forget about whether these people have a job to offer or not. Follow them on LinkedIn and online. Find out what they do, what their concerns are, what their career arc is like. Then begin writing letters or calling these people. Stop looking for employers, and start building relationships. When producer Mike Medavoy (Silence of The Lambs, The Terminator, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Apocalypse Now) started out as a young agent in Hollywood, he made a list of every significant person he needed to meet. He catapulted his career by building relationships.
Get Out of the House One Night a Week. Do something that has nothing to do with your work. Volunteer. Join an acting workshop. Take piano lessons. Follow your passion. We work to live. We don’t live to work. Not if we want to stay sane.
Stop thinking yourself as an employee. Think of yourself as a significant human being that can provide value. And cultivate new relationships. In no time, you’ll move up and out to greener pastures.