Some days you’re the shovel, some days you’re the hole

Have you ever driven past a utility crew in the middle of a project? You know the scene: one guy in a chest-deep hole working furiously while a half-dozen others mill around watching him. My favorite of the by-standers is the one in the (usually) white shirt holding a Styrofoam coffee cup, nodding his head and telling the others, “yup, that boy’s working.” I want his job.

That’s not reality, however. Many Americans are the fellow in the hole and that’s who I think about whenever some guru expounds on the need to rekindle your passion for work, to rediscover that inner drive, etc etc. The guru is the guy in the (usually) white shirt holding the coffee cup; easy for him to offer up advice to someone standing in the muck with sweat pouring down his face.

Still, the guru does make a good point. No one would argue with the premise that the more you enjoy doing something, the more motivated you will be to do it and the more likely you are to be successful. But, have you ever taken a personal inventory to discover the match among your interests, your skills, and the marketplace? Most people have not, which is why the typical American can expect to switch jobs – and by jobs, I mean doing roughly the same thing for different employers – anywhere from three to seven times depending on who is doing the study and what the parameters for it are. Switching careers is another matter.

The concept of 40 years and a gold watch has gone the way of the tube television; people are mobile and it seems that employers are noticing. Whether employer action accomplishes anything remains to be seen since the most common reason that people leave companies are people problems – they don’t like their bosses, they don’t like the internal politics, they don’t feel valued, and so forth.  It’s turning the workforce into a living U-2 video, and it’s worth asking if one reason people haven’t found what they’re looking for is that they are not sure what it is that they’re seeking?  

“Change” is a buzzword that politicians love but let’s be honest, most people don’t like it. Habits and routines don’t form themselves; they are the result of purposeful activity and we organize our lives around a relative degree of predictability. People tend to accept consistency, even with things they don’t necessarily like, because there is some comfort in knowing the outcome. And, when the thought of change forces its way into the conversation, it’s not just because there is a problem, it is because there is a problem the person is unwilling to tolerate any longer. Change is the necessary reaction to living the definition of doing the same thing and hoping for different results. Hope is neither a method nor a strategy, but again, change to what?

Businesspeople are often encouraged to describe their ideal client – with what type of person/organization will they have the most enjoyable and most successful relationship? There is no reason this same thought process cannot be brought down to the individual level – describe your ideal employer.  Begin with these three things:  what am I best suited for based on cognitive ability and skills; what type of corporate culture makes the best fit for my personality; and, what motivates me to do my best work?  The answer may be anything from being an entrepreneur to working for a large corporation to a small company to a non-profit.  But the answer will remain a mystery without some self-analysis.  Employee, define thyself. 

Alex Lekas


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