Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, made an interesting observation in this Sunday’s New York Times. He wrote, “Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstances.” It could have been an aphorism for Career Activism.
Career Activists face two kinds of problems: those which occur in the course of their own career – the bigoted bosses, the automation of some or all of a career field – and those that develop on-the-job. I’ve talked a good deal about the former, so let’s spend a little time on the latter – on the problems we face while working for our employers.
Crises seem to be an integral pattern in the fabric of contemporary work. Whether it’s an unexpected rush of new orders (a happy problem) or the sudden departure of a coworker (a difficult one), they create extraordinary situations that require extraordinary performance. And, for of us, at least, they pose a choice.
We can sit back and absolve ourselves of any responsibility for solving our employer’s problems because, after all, doing so isn’t a part of our job description. We don’t get paid to deal with their problems, just to do our jobs. So why put ourselves out and, especially in today’s unforgiving environment, take on the risk of failure and the possibility of harming our own wellbeing?
Or, we can take the exact opposite view and see solving problems as an unwritten but integral aspect of our job and act to address them as soon as they occur. That’s not to say that “normal work” isn’t important, but rather to acknowledge that abnormal situations aren’t irritating disruptions but precious opportunities. They are a rare intersection of chance and challenge that enables us to test ourselves and demonstrate our capacity for excellence.
For Career Activists, then, the decision to solve an employer’s problems isn’t a choice at all. In our view, such situations are stepping stones in our career. Managers may evaluate an employee’s reliable dedication to doing normal work as Above Average or even Superior in their Performance Appraisal, but they will most rapidly advance those who can best deal with the abnormal on-the-job. They value that person’s contribution the highest and reward them accordingly.
But, as Brooks points out, there is another reason for making the effort and, yes, taking the risk to solve our employer’s problems. The voluntary commitment of one’s talent in an extraordinary situation closes the synapse of happiness. It connects us with that sublime feeling of ultimate self-expression – the ineluctable euphoria of being our best as a person – that comes from confronting a test we have chosen to make our own.
Thanks for reading,