Frank Rich’s recent column in New York magazine – “Declinist Panic” – is worth a read. He reminds us of the longstanding American tradition of fondly remembering a more perfect past while loudly lamenting the decrepitude of our present condition. Then, he handily skewers both sentiments with the truth: the past was not as wonderful as we would like to believe and the present isn’t nearly as awful as the pundits claim.
What does his message have to do with careers?
Well, one of the characters in my new book, A Multitude of Hope: A Novel About Rediscovering the American Dream (www.AMultitudeofHope.com), puts it this way:
“Do you play tennis?”
Her non sequitur caught me [the narrator in the book] off guard.
“What? Do I play tennis? Yeah, I do. What’s that got to do with anything? I’m not following you.”
“Have you ever been in a match with someone who was supposed to be so much better than you that you had absolutely no chance of winning.”
“All the time,” I replied with an exaggerated grimace.
“Me too,” she said. “And then, have you gotten out on the court and found that the person wasn’t nearly as good as advertised. Or, maybe you were better than you thought. It doesn’t matter. What is important is that all of a sudden you realize that you could win the match. But, then, what happens? You’re the equal or better of the other guy, and you still lose. You hold back or you make stupid mistakes because deep down inside there’s a voice telling you to. We all do it – we listen to that voice – and when we do, we get psyched out.”
“I guess,” I admitted.
“That’s what I think is happening to us, to the U.S., I mean. We’re letting ourselves get psyched out by all the gloom and doom in the media.”
Remembering the past is fine, but whether it was the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s or just the last decade, it was not peopled by giants or superior beings. And, the present is disquieting to be sure, but it’s not because Americans have suddenly become stumblebums and ne’er-do-wells.
Yes, the workplace is a pressure cooker these days. Yes, there’s precious little security on-the-job. However, for talented people – for people who are at the state-of-the-art in their field and bring that talent to work with them every day – times have never been better.
Talent – the “capacity for excellence” – is the new global currency, and every single one of us has been endowed with a wallet full of it. You are loaded with talent. And, so is your spouse or partner and your kids and grandkids.
If you exchange the currencies of wishful memories and gloom and doom for the hard coin of talent – if you discover it, nurture it and then express and experience it on-the-job – you’ll set yourself on a career path that will increase both the paycheck and the satisfaction you bring home from work. And, that’s an American tradition you can bank on.
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