Survival Principle #2: Take Responsibility for Your Own Life and Career

Posted on | April 16, 2009 | Comments Off on Survival Principle #2: Take Responsibility for Your Own Life and Career

Survival Principle #2: Take Responsibility for Your Own Life and Career

In the old days—even ten years ago—there was a “psychological contract” between employers and their people that promised life-long security:

The Old Contract: Put all your loyalty, commitment and effort into making this organization succeed and we promise to take care of your general welfare for as long as you work here (which will probably be for life if you don’t screw up).

That contract is no longer viable and any employer that tries to tell you that it is we wouldn’t trust.  

The New Contract: Put as much loyalty, commitment and effort into your work as you can and we promise to keep you employed as long as it makes good business sense.  

The enlightened organizations often add a codicil:

We will do what we can to make you the best trained, best led, best motivated workforce possible and, when it comes time to let you go—which is virtually a 100% certainty at some point—we will do everything we can to help you find fulfilling work somewhere else.

Mike Stephen, a long-time friend and, until recently, the Chairman of Aetna’s International Division, once said to me, “After World War II the business schools really laid it on thick about how employees needed to turn their lives over to their companies, give them all their trust, not just loyalty and hard work, make their job the most important thing in their lives, the source of all meaning.  In short, to make their company their ‘god.’  Many of our current problems stem from the fact that, in large measure, we succeeded!  Today, when employees are laid off and then commit suicide or grab a gun and shoot their supervisor, we are appalled.  NO one should ever take such an extreme response, but we ought to remember that we trained our people to turn their lives over to us, that we’d take care of them, provide what was important for life.  Then, when we pull out the rug, it’s not ‘just a job,’ as many of my peers will tell me, it’s the foundation of their lives—and we in leadership taught them to see it that way!”

Today, the word is, “Don’t put your ultimate hope in your organization or its leaders! Don’t let them be the source of ultimate meaning in your life.”  Not because they aren’t good people, they just can’t deliver the peace and security you need, and they never will, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

If this is accurate, you must take back whatever ultimate trust or ultimate loyalty or ultimate commitment or ultimate hope you may have consciously or unconsciously given to your employer and its leaders. Don’t give it them.  They can’t save you even if they want to; they have an organization to defend and promote in a world that is increasingly hostile to companies that can’t bite the bullet when they should.

Take your hope back, and take responsibility for finding a place for your trust, loyalty, and commitment that has your highest interest at heart. You will have to find that place for yourself.  Some will find it in their religion or spiritual path.  Some will find it in their family or with true friends.  In the movie Good Will Hunting, Will’s best friend begs him to leave and make a bigger, better life for himself, rather than stay trapped in his old neighborhood out of some kind of loyalty.  

You are now responsible for your life and career, your series of gigs.  You are now responsible for finding a source of meaning and security somewhere that can be trusted.  The next Survival Principle may give you a place to start.


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