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Wednesday, May 30, 2020

21st century rules for career success

Penelope Trunk’s new book tells it how it is


When I was starting out on my career path (it seems a hundred years ago now), I was given the advice that we all received at that time:
  • Get a job with a “good” company that offers a pension scheme.

  • Hang onto it.

  • Wait patiently to retire and collect your reward.
Times have changed, but, sadly, the advice doled out to those starting their working lives today hasn’t changed nearly as much. A good deal of what we were told then turned out to be rubbish. It’s even less relevant in today’s world.


Enter Penelope Trunk with her new book: Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Her writing is sassy, irreverent, often extreme, but it just about always goes right to the point. What she says is directly relevant to today’s world, where pensions and benefits are no longer things that you can rely on, jobs disappear at the stroke of some accountant’s pen, and the only person in the organization that you can trust to have your best interests at heart is you.

In those far-off days when I was starting out, we were encouraged to believe that the right way to get ahead was to hand over control and direction of your career to the organization, keep your nose clean, work hard, and take whatever was given to you. Is that the advice I gave to my daughters when they started out in the world of work more than 30 years later? You bet it wasn’t! I didn’t have the advantage of having Penelope Trunk’s book then, but what she says in it rings true to my own experience.

What’s new and different about this book is that it doesn’t stop with how to choose a job and get past the selection process. With headings like “How to get what you want from the people you work with” and “Get what you want from your boss,” it’s there to help you find ways to succeed even after you enter those hallowed corporate portals. And if the idea of having a cubicle in some vast office complex doesn’t inspire you, you can turn to “Checklist for starting your own business” instead. For women, there’s even a section called “Sex discrimination is everywhere, so don’t try to run.” (I could point out that, as a young man, I was sexually harassed by several women in various places of work . . . but that was long before we even knew what it was. I think in those days it was known as “making the new guy blush and look an idiot.”)

Slow Leadership aims to tell the truth about the world of work. It isn’t a place where working hard always brings you a just reward—or any reward at all, save exhaustion and burnout. The best and brightest don’t naturally rise to the top. Many bosses shouldn’t be in the jobs they hold. The organization neither knows what’s best for you (only you can know that), nor is it especially interested in you, save as a source of profit that it can’t (yet) get more easily by outsourcing your job to someone it can pay half as much. Sure, there are good bosses and ethical organizations out there. There are also open-minded, non-partisan politicians and rap artists who don’t do drugs. It’s just that they can be pretty damned hard to find.

The real advice young people should be given starts with “it’s your life, so make sure that you do only what you believe is right for you” and ends more or less in the same place. In the middle, I would put a few other points like “if it feels like hard work, you’re probably in the wrong job” and “copying the boss is likely to make you into a jerk as well.” Fortunately for the world, I don’t offer young people career advice for a living.

Penelope Trunk does, so if you’re in the early stages of a typical 21st-century career—feeling lost, staring at your resumé and trying to work out how to hide the blemishes, wondering whether you made the right choice, or trying to plan the best way to get that promotion—this is the book for you. Many of the older generation—my generation—are going to hate this book. Your parents may even be shocked by some of it. But if you want advice that is 100% up-to-date and real, go for it just the same.



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Wednesday, May 02, 2020

Whose life is it anyway?

Giving in to dogma will cripple your identity


Thanks to Ririan Project, via Leon Ho at Lifehack.org, for pointing me to this quote from Steve Jobs of Apple:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
There are many subtle ways that we are trapped into following someone else’s opinion of how our life should be lived. It’s not just the obvious pressures, like the norms of society, the demands of employers, or even the laws where we live. It’s the softer and more insidious urgings like these:
If you want to live in a better world—and who wouldn’t, seeing the mess this one is in—there’s no alternative but to play your part in changing things. You cannot leave it to others. That’s neither honest nor practical. As another quote from Steve Jobs puts it;
We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?




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Monday, March 12, 2020

Are you enjoying the ride?

What jobs and roller-coasters have in common.

Like certain children on a ride at a theme park, many people aren’t enjoying the ride that their work or career is giving them. They only stay on the ride because they think that they must, due to peer pressure, fear of disapproval, or a hidden belief that there’s something wrong with them for not enjoying what everyone else says is so great. But is it true that all the others are enjoying the ride? Might they too choose to fake it for similar reasons?
Have you ever watched the faces of children on a carousel of other fairground ride? Some show pure delight. Others display fear, boredom, or a self-conscious concern with how they appear to parents or friends watching them. For every child who is enjoying the ride, one or more is there only because they have to be, and would get off at once if only they felt it was possible. (As an aside, much the same seems to be true of adults on the far scarier rides at today’s theme parks).

The experiences of these children are almost identical to the experiences of many people in today’s workplaces. some truly enjoy the ride—even the scary parts. Others are doing what they do because they think that they must, not because they get any pleasure from it.

How often have you seen a frightened child being urged onto some ride by amused parents. “Come along,” they say. “Don’t be afraid. you’ll love it.” And, in many cases, the child finally does what the parents want. Do they love their ride? Some do, perhaps, but I suspect more only say that they do afterwards, wanting to please their parents and avoid appearing to be uncomfortable with what their parents so clearly approve.

We comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.

In the same way, many of us are urged into careers by authority figures—teachers, parents, ministers, even writers—and assured it will all be pleasure and gain once we overcome our strange reluctance at the start. And so we comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.

Of course, peer pressure is equally important. Many of those inwardly frightened or bored children on the carousel are there because all their friends have indicated it’s the right, the exciting, the cool thing to do. These friends show off their “bravery” at facing the worst, most frightening theme park rides and enjoying them.

In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate.

Does this sound familiar? Have you heard people boasting, not just that they can handle the crippling work pressures and ever-extending hours in the office, but that they actually enjoy the whole process? Can you bear to be left out? Can you bear to be marked down as a wimp and a pantywaist? In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate. Their friends all have expensive cars, huge homes, and crushing working weeks. “See how successful we are,” they say. “We’re rich and important. 80-hour weeks? Child’s play to people as tough as we are.” So you join in, afraid of what might be whispered behind your back at the golf club otherwise, or the pitying looks exchanged at the PTA meeting.

And the bored children? They aren’t afraid or excited. They can handle the ride, scary or not, but it has no real interest to them. In part, they are there for the same reason as the rest—pressure of some kind. But there is also, perhaps, an element of self-doubt. “Everyone says the ride is wonderful and exciting. Since I don’t find it to be either, may be there’s something wrong with me?” So they keep riding, attempting to hide their supposed “problem” and pretending to enjoy it like everyone else.

By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t.

All too many people don’t enjoy their working lives. By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t. Many even pretend to enjoy their jobs, further fixing themselves into a stressful and meaningless round of drudgery and frustration.

Why is this? Like the children at the theme park, they have maybe given in to authority figures. Or they have accepted the notion that there’s something wrong with them: “This is a good job with a high salary. I ought to love it”. Or they are obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses and cannot contemplate the potential financial consequences of changing to a career they might really enjoy.

We all have only one ride around the sun. It’s our choice whether we select a ride we enjoy (even it isn’t the most financially advantageous), or one that scares or bores us (however much we earn). Having free will in broadly free, industrialized societies, means being able to choose wealth or social respectability over happiness—or the other way around.

If you truly love the ride you’re on, regardless of all the pressures, horrendous working hours, and terrifying ups and downs of the business roller coaster, what you have chosen is clearly right for you. You should ignore anyone who tries to tell you that it’s too risky or too demanding.

You are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.

But, if you have all the fears, pressures, and frustrations—or you are bored to distraction much of the time—without the corresponding enjoyment of what you are doing, why are you still on that ride? Whatever the pressures, you are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.

Come the end of your individual ride around the sun, will it have been worth it?



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