Authors: Stephen M. Pollan,Mark Levine
Tags: #Psychology, #Self Help, #Business
During her sophomore year Liz decided to become a philosophy major. She had always loved attending religious services, not only of her own faith, but of all faiths. Her parents used to joke that they wished she asked uncomfortable questions about sex, like other kids, rather than asking all those uncomfortable questions about the meaning of life. Liz loved her philosophy classes, and also loved participating in a variety of different political and service organizations while at school. At the beginning of her senior year she had decided she didn’t want to go to graduate school…at least not right away…but instead wanted to work for a nonprofit organization that either helped the poor or was a force for social change. Having lived in downtown Manhattan for four years while in college, Liz was determined not to have to return to her parents’ home on Long Island after graduation. She had a friend who was willing to share the costs of an apartment, but when they investigated rents in Manhattan she was shocked. When her parents heard about Liz’s plan to work for a nonprofit and get an apartment “in the city,” they resisted the urge to try to talk her out of it, but couldn’t resist asking me to speak with her.
When we had our initial conversation, I explained to Liz, much as I explained earlier in this chapter, that her parents’ motivation was to ensure that she didn’t make the same mistakes they had and end up getting neither psychic nor monetary fulfillment from work. While she was a bit resistant at first, Liz was open-minded enough to listen to me when I suggested she needed to fire her first boss, even before she knew who it would be.
You have a wonderful opportunity to start your work life off on the right track. Most people, from their first job right out of college to their last job before retiring, cede control over their work lives to their bosses. They allow their bosses to determine their value in the workplace. The skills they pick up throughout their working lives are determined, not by which are potentially the most lucrative or important in the long term, but by what their boss needs them to do in the short term. After just a few years of workplace subservience people’s perceptions of their achievements, value, and abilities become shaded by their bosses’ judgments. Instead of having their own proactive plan for their work life, they become reactive and let their bosses determine the course of their work life.
Firing your boss means taking charge yourself. For you, that means developing your own work profile and plan even before you get your first job. The idea is to have an intelligent, cogent, self-generated answer when someone asks, “What kind of work are you looking for?”
Start by coming up with a one-paragraph job profile: a description of the type of work at which you think you’d excel. Don’t worry about things like titles or industry specifics. Instead, focus on verbs: action words that describe the mental and physical aspects of a job. For instance, you might conclude that you’d excel at a job that involves writing and communicating. Or perhaps you think your strengths would be in researching and analyzing. Maybe you feel you’d be best at developing and organizing. Put your profile in writing.
Next, conduct a brief “performance review” of your past. What was it that led you to select those verbs when developing your job profile? Did you have your greatest academic successes in, let’s say, science projects where you were responsible for researching and analyzing information? Was your prime role in your summer job writing and communicating information for your local newspaper? Were your extracurricular and personal activities centered around developing and organizing, perhaps by launching and leading a charity drive? Make note of the results of your review, writing your findings beneath your job profile on the same sheet of paper.
Take a few minutes to read over your profile and review. Refine it, if necessary, or tinker with the wording. Make it as concise as possible. You want to be able to convey this information in one or two conversational sentences.
It didn’t take much convincing for Liz to see the advantages of taking charge of her own work life right from square one. Both her parents had often complained about the extent to which their work lives were controlled by their bosses. Her father, even though he had finally become a principal, had spent years having his work progress blocked by the combination of an incompetent principal and a domineering superintendent. Then after a shake-up in the school board led to his finally getting the principal’s job, he found his powers strictly curtailed by a block of board members who had engineered the ouster of the previous principal and superintendent and who now sought to micro-manage the entire district. Liz’s mother had been made to teach seventh-graders rather than the younger students she preferred, and had been told to go back and get additionally certified in social studies rather than biology, as she’d wished. Both felt they’d given up control over their work lives years ago. Both were also working hard to regain it, however, by having me help them fire their bosses.
At the end of our first session together I asked Liz to go home and work on her profile and review. She called me the next day to tell me she’d done some thinking and thought she had it worked out. Thinking back over her academic career, Liz decided she was very good at analyzing problems, finding a variety of potential solutions, and then analyzing the pros and cons of each option. Most of the jobs Liz had held up to now were doing light filing, data entry, and answering telephones, so they didn’t really apply to her job profile. But her academic work in philosophy certainly did, as did some of her extracurricular activities. In high school she had trained as a peer counselor, and then in college she had volunteered at a suicide-prevention hotline. She had come up with the following answer to the question of what kind of work she was looking for:
My strength is in problem solving. As a philosophy major and a volunteer crisis counselor I learned how to isolate problems, research possible solutions, and analyze the alternatives.
If you take only one thing away from this chapter, I hope it’s this: you are not your job. I believe the single best way to ensure that you earn a good income
get some level of psychic fulfillment is to abandon the notion of being able to achieve both through work. The focus of your work life should be to earn money, while the focus of your personal life should be to provide you with emotional, psychological, and spiritual satisfaction. By splitting your life in this manner you vastly improve your chances of being happy.
I know this doesn’t match up with what most of you have been taught or told. That’s because most of the people offering you advice are baby-boomer academics. When your parents’ generation was young they thought such a divided life was a terrible idea. Their goal was to lead a holistic life in which work and personal life were inextricably and harmoniously linked. It was a very idealistic theory. For academics it was actually possible. But everyone else has discovered that it didn’t work in practice. Most of the members of your parents’ generation ended up working ever increasing hours at jobs with ever decreasing security, for incomes that didn’t keep pace with inflation, and in the process they’ve become more and more dissatisfied with their lives. Both their work lives and their personal lives are actually less fulfilling than those of their own parents. You won’t hear this from your college advisers, since they’ve remained sheltered from real-world market forces. You will hear it from your parents…or at least see its evidence. My goal is to keep you from falling into the same trap.
I’m advising people to kill their careers and get jobs instead; to work to live rather than live to work. Careers are supposed to produce psychic as well as financial reward. Jobs are simply tools to make money. It’s very hard for some of my older clients to make this transition. They’ve spent years struggling to achieve their dream of a rewarding holistic life. If they give up now they’re forced to admit all that effort and time were wasted. Still, most are biting the bullet and killing their careers. That’s because the result is getting what they most want: a happier, more fulfilling life. I’m hoping you won’t waste years of your own working life in the pursuit of a nearly impossible dream, making yourself miserable in the process. Unless you’re going to spend the rest of your life in academia, I’m urging you to kill your career now, before it’s even born. You won’t regret it.
At this stage in your life the process will actually be quite simple. Think about what, besides money, you most want from work. Do you want to be of service, or to express yourself? Are you looking for status, security, or respect? Or is your goal to travel or meet people? Whatever it is, you can more easily achieve it through your personal life than through your work life, particularly at your age. Right now you have fewer obligations and responsibilities dictating what you need to do with your personal life than you will when you grow older. That makes this the perfect time for you to seek out and pursue those things that provide the psychic satisfaction you crave. Now, before you have children, is the time when you can spend multiple evenings a week playing with a chamber music group. Now, before you have household chores, is the time when you can spend all day Saturday working with a church youth group. Now, before you have multiple schedules to coordinate, is the time when you can spend two weeks hiking through Scotland. As you grow older you’ll need to make more compromises and sacrifices to achieve the kind of personal satisfaction you crave. Now all you need to do is abandon the notion of career and embrace the concept of job instead.
Before she met with me, Liz had planned to look for work with a not - for - profit agency or organization that worked on behalf of the poor. From an early age she had felt the need to serve, inspired by her parents’ examples. This drive to serve meshed with a strong spiritual element to her life. While both her parents were spiritual in their way, they weren’t religiously observant. Liz, on the other hand, took a great deal of comfort from religious worship. Unfortunately, her drive to serve didn’t mesh well with her desire to carve out a life independent of her parents. Right after college Liz and a former college roommate began scouting for an apartment they might be able to afford on their projected incomes. While certainly not spoiled, Liz had grown up in solidly middle-class environments. However, the areas of New York City where she could afford to live if she took an entry-level job working at a not - for - profit agency were, to use her roommate’s euphemism, “authentically urban.”
It was at this point that I introduced Liz to the idea of killing her career and getting a job instead. I thought she’d reflexively resist the concept, but after only a few moments’ thought she seemed to see all its advantages. After about ten minutes she was already talking about ways she could express her need to be of service through volunteering, and ways she could follow up on her religious impulse as well. By the end of the dialogue she was genuinely excited about killing her career.
A key element in both landing and keeping a job today is realizing there’s no I in job. That means focusing on your boss’s needs and wants rather than your own, or the company’s. Once again, as someone new to the job market, you have some advantages.
Having spoken about this concept with a number of young clients fresh out of college, I’ve learned that this is similar to a technique many savvy students use to ensure they get the best possible grade in a class. Rather than approaching the material in an entirely objective manner, these ambitious students study the professor’s statements and writings to determine his or her own preferences and prejudices. Then the students package and present their work in a manner or style that mirrors the professor’s own ideas or approach. These clients of mine also report that college professors are no different from bosses in that they almost universally seem oblivious of such efforts.
Another advantage you have as a neophyte job hunter is that it’s easier for you to determine a boss’s needs or wants. When anyone applies for a job, the secret to determining a boss’s superficial needs and wants — those he openly talks about during the search process — is studying the ad and drawing inferences during the interview. As a young person you can be completely direct and simply ask, “What are the traits you’re looking for in a candidate?” Whereas such a direct approach would make an experienced job hunter appear naive, it’s refreshing coming from a young person. Bosses love young subordinates to be eager, obedient disciples. Directly ask what you can do and you’ll not only gather the information you need to present yourself in the best light, but you’ll also score bonus points in the process.
Once you’re on the job it will become apparent that what the boss said he wanted from a candidate during the search process is different from what he wants from an actual subordinate. Here’s another place where you have an advantage over more seasoned employees. They need to study and observe their boss’s behaviors to figure out how best to meet his needs. You can simply ask, “What can I do to make your work easier?” Again, your directness and obvious eagerness to please will be a plus. Having been told what you should do, all that’s left is for you to do it.
I tell my clients they need to go job fishing rather than job hunting. Instead of waiting until they’re in dire need of a new job, and then going out looking for a specific type of job, like some kind of big-game hunter, I think people today should act more like a fisherman. That means constantly looking, regardless of how long you’ve been at a job, and focusing on landing as many offers as possible, not necessarily looking for a particular job. The idea is to cast a wide net and regularly land a large catch of offers from which you can pick and choose.