Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

The columnist George F. Will recently opined that one of President Obama’s principal themes in his Inaugural Address “was that Americans do not just have a problem, they are the problem.”  While he was referring to our national penchant to overspend, over-consume and over-indulgence ourselves, I think the statement is also an apt description of the way many Americans have managed their careers.

According to a recent survey by The Economist, unemployed Americans spend less than four hours a day looking for work.  That’s less time than they spend watching television each day.  It’s a pitiful investment of time and effort in a good economy; in today’s tough times, it’s borderline reckless endangerment.  And on top of that, those same Americans only spend those four hours when they’re unemployed.  They devote even less time—and in many cases, no time at all—to the management of their careers when they happen to be employed.

If, as we now know, there is no free lunch in the stock market or the real estate market, you can also be sure that there is no free lunch in the job market, as well.  If you want a good job—in fact, if you want any job at all in the 21st Century workplace—you’re going to have to work at getting it.  No, you’re going to have to work incredibly hard to get it.  And then, you’re going to have to work even harder to keep it.

And why shouldn’t you?  After all, you spend one-third or more of your life on-the-job.  Isn’t the content of that time worth something to you?

I guess if you see work as a four letter word—as an onerous and demeaning passage that merely provides the financial foundation for the joy you experience elsewhere—then the nature of your employment doesn’t matter.  You are simply a beast of burden wearing jeans or a cheap suit, not a thinking, talented human being.

On the other hand, if you think you deserve more out of work than an (almost always) inadequate paycheck, if you think employment should do something for you as well as for some organization, then you have only one course of action: you have to take charge of your career.  You have to learn the principles of good career self-management, and then you have to practice those principles every single day.  Not just when you’re in between jobs and not just for a couple of hours in between TV shows.  A healthy career, like a healthy body, comes from constant and continuous attention.

When you make that kind of investment in yourself—when, as the President suggested, you stop playing at your career and start giving it the adult attention it deserves—then you will no longer be a part of the problem.  You will be a living exemplar of the solution.

Thanks for reading,
Peter