Monday 18 June 2012

Self-Preservation - A Sense of Wonder at Work:

Okay, everything is certainly not okay. You just lost your job…

I’ve been an outplacement consultant and career coach since 1998. During this time I have worked with hundreds of grieving people bereft of their livelihood. Many people say that what I do must be awful; with a look a bit like they’re talking to the taxman. The truth is that I love what I do because I care about people and want to minimise the blow.

Up to the age of 32 my career caused me a lot of pain. I had no clue about how much pain I used to be in until I discovered my calling. And looked-back. I’ve written mountains of stuff on my own transformation and how my life turned around. The point is, I empathise. I know how it feels to lose your job and fear for how the bills are going to be paid come Friday.

I’m working with a guy at the moment who has had the sword of redundancy over his head for months and months. It's painful to watch. The firm thought it might be kinder to give him a lot of advance warning because of the many decades of loyalty he has invested in them. In reply he has mirrored their ‘kindness’ and works tirelessly to make sure the department he runs doesn’t miss a beat in order that he can walk away in a few months’ time with his head held high, conscience clear, dignity and integrity intact.

During the many decades since he joined The World of Work has changed beyond recognition. A big part of the relationship between employee and employer used to be loyalty; sometimes referred to as the ‘psychological contract’. It basically states that a paternalistic and caring employer will provide pay, job stability and nurturing environment in return for conscientiousness, reliability and commitment.

About 10 years ago, possibly longer, younger workers entering employment could see the instability of employment and recognise a power-shift arising from the huge skills shortages at play in the labour market. This meant the market changed and younger workers would take whatever training and development they could from one employer and leverage it with the next. I found their skills of assertiveness compelling. Whereas in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s a good CV/resume might have one or two employers listed, a good CV in the 2000s will show many along the making of an enviable career trajectory.

Traditional sense of loyalties can therefore be misplaced:

If you are being made redundant take stock – this is happening. And it is not your fault. But your company don’t think they need you anymore. Perhaps they’re on hard times too. But they cannot afford you. Or your role has become obsolete. Similar to the anguish of losing a loved-one, there comes a time to move-on.

The focus of your concern is now upon you. Who else is going to help you? Metaphorically-speaking, the plane is depressurizing, the oxygen mask has dropped in front of your face and it is time to act calmly and put it over your mouth to ensure your survival.

Fear is a natural instinct:

Recognising your fear when losing your job is an integral factor in your ability to survive the trauma. You can only manage what you recognise. Fear of the unknown is a natural phenomenon. And this is the nub of the point of this blog: Fear is a symptom / Convention is the cause.

Convention is a particular belief among people as to how things should be done; or how we ought to behave. Conventions are helpful when teaching a child to stay out of the road – because collisions with cars are extremely dangerous. Conventions are unhelpful however when they perpetuate an unhelpful myth or obsolete attitude.

The Number 1 job-search convention is that we must get straight back to permanent work as quickly as possible. Part of this convention is that we’ll be happy to do anything even if it means doing a menial job many rungs in the ladder below where we stepped off. Another part of this convention is that we just fire at whatever jobs are available in the labour market and something will land.

Because fear can act like a set of blinkers on our strategy, it can massively limit our potential for success. Because of our misplaced loyalty, when we’re investing time helping our employers when we should be investing in ourselves, fear is, again, distinctly limiting. We must exercise our decision-making muscles, accurately identify our career attributes and the corresponding job target. 

As I’ve written before and I’ll no doubt write again, The Path of Least Resistance is about tuning into to ‘wonder’. Don’t wander, wonder. Getting future hirers inspired about us involves triggering rapport. There is no better mechanism for sparking rapport than passion, enthusiasm and wonder. And this must be evident in all of our self-marketing materials: CV, covering letters and interview scripts. 

Could it be that you’ve gone stale and have forgotten what it was the filled you with excitement in the workplace? Did you ever enjoy a sense of wonder in your work? Now is the time to get in touch with your working passions and infect others with your enthusiasm. If you don't do it somebody else will. There aren't limitless number of jobs available; the labour market is set to become increasingly Darwinian. 

Craftsmen and craftswomen never consider the long hours they invest in their work because they don’t consider applying themselves to what they love to do to be work. As our economy melts-down and the dole queue lengthens the Number 1 antidote is to tune-in to what it is that you love to do. Learn to be selfish for a time and invest in your own wellbeing. Should the time come, and you have to help others, they will only thank you for ensuring you are fit and well.

Connecting with Hirers is key:

However, every now and again stop to consider whether it is realistic for you to connect with the 'Wonder of your Work' and work for someone else at the same time. Often, discovering wonder in our work, involves working for ourselves. Although this is indeed a challenging path to tread; sometimes it offers a ‘Path of Least Resistance’. The rewards for courage, independence of thinking and the ability to take charge of our destiny can often justify the risk.

Here again, we will need to understand the presence of 'Wonder in our Work' if we are to succeed. Rest assured, if you can do the painstaking detective work to identify your authentic vocational identity and take it forward to a place where it will harbour and grow, you will have given society a sense of wonder that will likely remain your legacy long after you are gone.

Look around you, what is it you wonder at? What caused wonder before, will again. 

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