Authors: Stephen M. Pollan,Mark Levine
Tags: #Psychology, #Self Help, #Business
I know it may be hard to believe. Even after reading this far you may still feel that you’ve no hope. I know how hard it can be to overcome malaise and break free from the doldrums of the current work environment. I know how bad it is out there.
While all the Wall Street economists and Washington pundits talk about a recovery, it still feels like a recession on the sales floor, at the office, and in the factory. Both the clerk earning $12,000 and the executive earning $112,000 rightly feel their jobs are hanging by threads. In the face of this insecurity most of us are working longer hours than ever before. When people are laid off they face a lack of new job opportunities.
The average employee sees his income shrinking and his hours increasing. He’s getting no satisfaction from his career. He feels his job is in jeopardy, and he has no control over his work life. The future seems bleak.
Then, in the midst of all this bad news, I come along and write that you can actually create the job of your dreams and lead the life of your dreams. I offer up examples of my clients and say you can do what they did. I suggest seven steps to follow that fly in the face of conventional wisdom, and make it all sound so simple.
That’s because it is.
Turning your work life around isn’t easy, but it is simple. The seven steps require considerable time and effort on your part. But when push comes to shove, the whole process really just comes down to a change in attitude. If I can get you to accept and implement just one thing from this whole book, it’s this: you are not your work.
For decades we have all been trying to integrate our work lives and personal lives in an effort to create a wonderful holistic life. We’ve pursued careers we thought would make us wealthy materially and spiritually. In the process we’ve done immeasurable damage to our lives. We’ve been making presentations rather than baking cookies with our kids. We’ve spent time at sales conferences instead of soccer games. We’ve been staring at our computers rather than sunsets. We’ve gathered around conference tables rather than dinner tables.
Separating your self from your work doesn’t mean giving up the search for material wealth. In fact, it makes it easier to achieve wealth. Stop looking to satisfy your own needs and start satisfying your boss’s needs instead. You’ll earn more and be more secure. Stop trying to climb a hierarchy and start looking for new jobs instead. You’ll be in control and will find work more quickly.
Separating your self from your work doesn’t mean giving up the search for fulfillment. In fact, it makes it easier to achieve fulfillment. Stop looking for joy at work and start looking for it at home or in church. Stop trying to make your work creative, or make creativity your work, and instead work at your job and create in your life. You’ll find emotional, psychological, and spiritual satisfaction.
Some people have told me they think my Fire Your Boss philosophy is cynical. I couldn’t disagree more. I think it’s idealistic. It places the greatest priority on helping you achieve your dreams. Fire your boss and you’ll finally be able to take charge of your work life. Fire your boss and you’ll finally be able to find the fulfillment in life you’ve always wanted.
All it takes is a change in attitude. I’m asking you to take a leap of faith. To step away from the conventional and embrace the radical. I’ve led you to the brink of happiness. But you have to take the next step.
The remaining three chapters show how the Fire Your Boss philosophy is applied in three work situations. I’ve always felt it important not just to write about what someone should do, but to show how to do it. These chapters are intended as supplements, not substitutes, for the previous chapters. They’re written with the assumption that you’ve read the rest of the book and are coming to these chapters for help in applying ideas you’ve already absorbed.
It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.
IF YOU’RE UNEMPLOYED
you probably wish you still had a boss you could fire. And I’m sure some of you can think of a lot of other things you’d like to do to your ex-boss besides terminating him. But the first thing you need to do is to get over your anger.
Many people who are unemployed have every right to be bitter. Since you were open-minded and proactive enough to pick up this book, and intelligent and determined enough to get this far into it, odds are you lost your job through no fault of your own. I know that’s of little comfort. Neither is knowing that you’re not alone. There are millions of other good, honest, hardworking, skilled people out there who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Misery may love company, but it’s an affection that provides little solace and less empowerment.
The rage felt by some of those who are unemployed is understandable. But it’s not very helpful. Anger is an impotent emotion: it doesn’t do anything for you. In this case it’s probably born of impotence as well: people are angry that others, not they, had control over their work life. It could also come from a sense of outrage. They held up their end of the bargain, but their boss didn’t. They showed up on time, they did their job, perhaps they even excelled. Yet they got fired. Where’s the justice in that?
Well, there is none. As I wrote earlier in this book, there is no justice in the workplace today. Believing otherwise often leads to disappointment. I hate to say it, but many of these people are right in feeling impotent. They had no control over their work life. They were nothing more than a budget line to be cut so someone higher up the ladder could keep his job for another couple of months.
Instead of getting angry, get even. How? There’s an old adage that says living well is the best revenge. I couldn’t agree more. Payback will come by your taking charge of your own work life, making sure you’re never put in this position again, and getting to lead the life of your dreams. That’s what I told Jason Hope when he came to my office.
A tall, thin man who looks a bit like Tom Hanks, Jason came to see me on the advice of a mutual friend. Jason was fifty-one, and had been vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese electronics firm for six years. He had spent his entire working life in the consumer electronics industry, starting out as a sales-clerk in a retail store after college. From there, Jason became a salesman for an American company that made high-end audio speakers. After a half dozen years with that firm he became a regional sales manager for a larger American firm that made mass-market electronics products. Nine years later he became national sales manager of the Japanese firm, eventually being promoted into the position from which he was fired after more than a decade with the company.
Jason was able to negotiate a severance package that included six months’ salary. That slowed, but didn’t stop, his family’s economic problems. Jason’s wife, Beth, works as a dental hygienist at an office not far from their home in suburban New Jersey. They have two sons, Steve, a senior in college, and Tim, a junior in high school. Jason and Beth were astute enough to make some very quick adjustments in their financial lives. Beth was able to add Jason and their sons to her health insurance plan at work. They helped Steve obtain loans for his last two semesters in college that, while not subsidized, deferred repayment of principal until after graduation. They took out a home-equity line of credit, gave up one of their cars, and cut back on all their discretionary spending. Jason believed all this belt - tightening and his severance would help carry the family for the year he thought it would take for him to find another job. The plan would have worked, except after a year he still had no job in sight. Another six months passed before he came to see me.
Still seething over having been fired eighteen months earlier, and increasingly angry at himself for not having found a job sooner, Jason was right on the cusp of despair when he came to see me. I spent about fifteen minutes “talking him off the ledge.” I explained that if he let himself sink into despair he’d signal that to the world and would have an even harder time getting another job. The antidote, I suggested, was to fire his ex-boss.
The first homework assignment I give to clients who are still employed is designed to get them to realize the degree to which they actually lack control over their working life. If you’re unemployed you don’t need my help in realizing that. However, you still need to break the hold your former boss and job have on your psyche and your self-image.
How are you determining your value in the workplace? I’ll bet you’re looking at what you were earning at your job before you were fired. I’ll bet the same is true of what kind of benefits you think you deserve. Even though you’ve been fired, you’re allowing your ex-boss to continue to define who and what you are. Use your termination as an opportunity to shatter those chains. Just because you were earning $90,000 a year at your former company in your former industry doesn’t mean that’s your value in the overall job market. Someone like you may well be worth $150,000. Or it could be your real value is actually only $75,000 today. Obviously it’s preferable to find out you are undervaluing rather than overvaluing yourself, based on your previous job. But it’s still better to find out your actual value is lower, and then land a job, than to continue to have an unrealistic view, and remain unemployed.
The same goes for the rest of your work image. Are you assuming a certain work path based solely on the path you would have followed if you’d stayed at your former employer? Are you stressing certain achievements in your past based on what your ex-boss valued? Are you viewing yourself, and describing yourself to others, based on the job description of a job you no longer hold? You are not your job. And you certainly are not your ex-job.
God knows there are a lot of bad things that happen when you lose your job. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, and the Chinese use the same character for “crisis” and “opportunity,” so too can being fired have a positive element to it…at least if you’re willing to get past your bitterness and embrace that chance. Being fired is an opportunity for you to break completely with your past. It’s a chance to start over and carve out a new identity for yourself. It’s a time when you can become who you want to be rather than continue being who your boss said you were. Don’t let him continue his hold over you even after firing you.
My suggestion is to write a job description of the job you want, not the job you lost. What is it you are best at? Where do you feel you excel? What are your strengths? You know the answers to these questions far better than your ex-boss ever did.
After crafting your own job description, investigate its value in the marketplace. How? First, by consulting classified ads, reading professional journals, meeting with employment agencies, and chatting with headhunters. Then, simply by testing the waters. You are worth what the market will pay for you. Use your self-definition as the bait in your job fishing and you will soon learn what you’re worth in today’s market.
Jason, despite his lingering anger with his former company, admitted to me he was continuing to define himself based on its perspective, rather than his own. At first the admission made him even angrier than he was. But after a few minutes discussing how he could now develop his own job description, Jason’s anger abated and eventually morphed into excitement. His homework assignment after our initial consultation was to come up with that self-definition. Before he left he told me this was the first time he’d been excited about work in more than a year.
When he returned a week later, Jason seemed a different man. His anger was gone, replaced by enthusiasm. He had taken my suggestions to heart. He had sat down with his wife and gotten her feedback and insights into his work image. Their conclusions surprised him. Jason realized he had bought into the work path of his employers, rather than creating his own. While he excelled at personal selling, he had moved into sales management because that was the next step in the ladder at his company. Once on that path he never stepped back to reconsider his direction. In addition, he realized he was basing his ideas about compensation on just one industry. Jason decided he would seize the opportunity and redefine himself. Rather than marketing himself as a sales and marketing executive, he would promote himself as an expert at selling high-end consumer products to specialty retailers.
It’s surprising, but unemployment on its own doesn’t seem to be enough to convince some people to stop looking for emotional, psychological, or spiritual fulfillment through work. I’ve met with people who, despite being out of work for more than a year, continue to look for work they believe will be more than just financially rewarding. When faced with a choice between going into debt or giving up the pursuit of “meaningful” work, they opt for debt. Sometimes they are enabled in this by “supportive” spouses or parents who are equally convinced of the importance of having a career as opposed to a job. In many cases, the longer these individuals hold out, the more they become committed to their cause. It’s as if the only thing that can justify their prolonged unemployment is that they’re on an almost spiritual quest. Then, rather than compromising on the psychic side of the equation, they compromise on the financial side. Eventually they take a job paying far less than they previously earned, far less than they could potentially earn, simply to ensure that their work is more than just a mercantile pursuit. Please, if you follow no other piece of advice I offer in the chapter, at least don’t let this happen to you.