Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Truth About Your Job

(How I Came to Realize)
(Stable, Well-paying)
9-to-5 Job
Is Actually a Dead End
(And Why Yours Probably is Too)

I wish the story of my epiphany was sexier. I wish I could tell you a flashy story about the exact moment of genius, the gospel chorus, or my shout of “EUREKA!” Sadly, I couldn’t get Tarantino to direct my moment of clarity. The light bulb never went off as Hollywood promised.

Rather, my revelation came under the impersonal hum of fluorescent light during a coworker’s retirement celebration. After 40 years, Vicky had retired with an adequate 401K and a sheet-cake from Costco. Four decades of work rewarded with requisite formalities and Hallmark’s vacant farewells. It was an alarming prophecy of the road I was headed down.

That’s when it hit me: My stable and well paying corporate job was a total dead end…

Why The Cubicle is the Predominant Career Choice
It’s no surprise why so many people seek out corporate jobs. Large companies can offer competitive salaries and appealing benefits. Mostly, the corporate choice is a reflection of human behavioral tendencies:

1. Perception of Stability: Humans are naturally risk averse and therefore find happiness in stability. Frequently the decision to join the 9-5 workforce is an attempt at long term certainty. Furthermore, life decisions like starting a family or buying a house often depend on the guarantee of future income. Corporate jobs seem appealing because no one likes to wonder when the next paycheck will be coming.

2. Herding Behavior: The sheer quantity of 9-5 jobs (and willing applicants) makes it seem as if it’s the only choice out there (safety in numbers). Furthermore, It doesn’t help when our outgoing Boomer parents give their own antiquated advice about work. The get-a-job-and-work-until-you’re-65 model is so prevalent in our aging (but well entrenched) workforce that examples of alternatives are hard to find.

3. The Failure of Imagination: Too often, people enter the corporate trap simply because they cannot fathom going against the grain of conventional work environments. Fear, doubt, and pessimism force people into thinking a 9-5 job is the only way.

The Truth about the Cubicle (Pst! It’s Just a Small Box)
Here is the plain truth about cubicle jobs:

1. There is No Reward for Loyalty: Staying at the same job your whole career is no longer beneficial. Pensions no longer exist. Global business is booming and outsourcing is growing. Business will no longer value the corporate veterans when the bottom line is threatened.

2. You are not that important: It’s true. Sorry. If you quit today, they would hire a replacement and carry on (maybe they even throw in a sheet cake). You are simply waiting for someone higher than you to retire so you can move up. Truth is, it’s nearly impossible for you to create any meaningful and lasting legacy at a large company unless you’re willing to throw away the chance of a balanced personal life.

3. You Won’t Need The Money If You Had More Time: So many choose corporate purgatory for a tempting salary and in return they forfeit their happiness for 60 hours a week. You don't need as much money as you think. Sure, who doesn’t want to be rich? But money will not bring happiness if you have no time to spend it.

4. You can only live once: You are a person (husband, wife, son, mother) first, and an employee second. Far too many people forget this. Quit any job that forces you to pick between living your life or populating a spreadsheet.

Living: When Working Comes Between You and Life:
Last month a coworker of mine had announced her engagement and immediately began planning her honeymoon. Erin ultimately decided upon the Caribbean but was forced to severely limit the length of the stay due to her lack of vacation time. She ended up having to ask permission to take unpaid leave so that she could get married.

This episode reminds me of how backwards the corporate world can be. Weddings are one of the most important milestones in life, yet work had prevented Erin from enjoying it the way she wanted. She forgot rule 4 (above).

A wise man once said “If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working”? It was a piece of advice I could never fully understand until I started working a dead-end job. Since then, I have always tried to ask myself, “Is what I’m doing today going to matter in one year”? Until I can answer yes, I’ll know that I’m heading down the ol’ career cul-de-sac.

As for my retirement? I’ll bake my own cake, thank you.

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