Career Observations

My first internship with the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce terrified me. I walked away so dismayed about professional life I emailed Northern Illinois University’s College of Business, telling them I was terrified. Here is how I ended the email:

I feel like college and the real world is going to crush my twenty year old dreams, and I’ll end up like everyone else – hoping – letting competition crush them and letting their distant dreams fade into what could have been.
I’m writing this to you after being less than 8 months to transfer feeling an impending sense of concern in that the next few years I’ll be scraping by, flipping burgers trying to find a decent part-time entry job making nothing hoping I might have an element of leadership (which I’ve read up on extensively) to put me somewhere where maybe I might live an okay life. I’m scrambling to learn any skill I can e.g. excel, free certification of project management, SWOT analysis, business plan development so that hopefully life doesn’t kick me down.
In short and in absolute, sincere honesty I am absolutely terrified.
That was just over four years ago. I felt I wasn’t ready because I had studied classes such as Contemporary Social Problem, Marriage and Family, and Abnormal Psychology rather than ones like Managerial Accounting.
In addition, I was deeply concerned that so many people settle for an average life, are disingenuous and only act kind because they want a connection, or get a little success and think they’re big man (or woman) on campus.
Here’s a great tip: If you want to see how someone really is, see how they treat people they can’t get anything from.
Professionals get so caught up playing their “game” or trying to advance their careers that they forgot to take enough time to listen and provide mentorship to the next generation.
I saw them mock citizens on social media, take pride in their ability to slam the public who were against the policies they were pursuing, look down on their colleagues, and not follow-up with me or treat me well because I didn’t serve their interests.
But not everyone will count you out. I have also received mentorship, and people did meet with me sometimes.
While there are those selfish folks, as Mister Rogers says, there are also the helpers – the ones who believe in you and give you a hand up if you’re really trying.
It’s true that time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things.
Try and try again – fail often. Eventually, despite the non-believers, you’ll make it.

Seth Godin in his book This is Marketing advances the idea that a professional puts aside their authenticity using emotional labor to do a job that is useful to others.

Emotional labor, he writes, is “The work of doing what we don’t necessarily feel like doing, the work of being a professional, the work of engaging with others in a way that leads to the best long-term outcome.”

He suggests people don’t care about the bad day you’re having or the details about your personal life, and if you have a job that allows you to be your most honest self, you’re just an amateur with a good gig.

It makes sense. As a professional, you have a duty to perform the work you’ve promised, and work does tend to be utilitarian or impersonal transactions.

Notwithstanding the idea’s commonsensicalness, it’s dangerous.

Human beings are not services or products to be simply useful in a society of kind of accepted systems of thinking.

Sure, you do your job. But we are more than institutions.

We are people, with complex personalities, each trying to find our way along these made up systems that we kind of agree on, each with a social responsibility to our communities – to our neighbors, and cashiers, and the kids we hire to mow our lawns.

You have a duty to do your part in creating an accepting, caring, appreciative, and helpful world.

The kind of impersonality that has become accepted during the rise of industrialism is a large contributor to the many problems we see in the world – the abundance of mental health issues, the lack of fairness in our democratic processes, and increasing inequities.

You are more than just a person doing your job. You are a person, who is busy and trying to survive in a hypercompetitive environment.

But understand this: If you abandon good-naturedness, empathy, and the love necessary to create a better world, you might be more productive, but you have failed the next generation because you’ve created one more small divide in the common humanity that unites us.

Seth Godin says that it’s dangerous to be average, to appeal to the masses. You look just like everyone else. You’re just another individual. This idea is conveyed in this TED talk.

Platitudes that hold up: 1. A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. 2. Fortune favors the bold.

Authenticity often feels a lot like discomfort, like insecurity that something you do won’t be accepted.

So you have to cultivate social courage.

It can be hard, especially while you’re navigating your identity in your 20s. But you have to step out. You can’t go along to get along. That’s how we remain mired in the same problems. That’s how systems fail.

Make the move. Wake up each day and ask yourself how you can live a little more true to your conviction. Each day is a small step until eventually you realize you’ve created something genius.

Here’s a great Janelle Monae song in case you need some inspiration:

The professional tends to live according to a system.

There is a method in place.

When meeting people they follow the rules of the game. They follow their checklist, introducing themselves with a smile, shaking hands firmly with eye contact, trying to display a good attitude, and if they’re smart, letting the other person talk about themselves.

If they are really attempting to play the game well, they try to only do that which conforms to their personal brand, the organized ideas of themselves that they want others to perceive.

When working they follow proper procedure, the formal and informal rules of their workplace culture. They stay within the confines of the established structure because it makes it more predictable, and they just want to get their job done.

The artist tends to live according to themselves.

There’s is a path of sincere expression.

They seek that which enlarges their souls, the things they feel compelled to accomplish out of a deep desire, interest, or passion.

This is not to say there isn’t overlap. Making a good impression doesn’t have to be confined strictly to professional behavior, and rules of professionalism tend to just be rules of propriety or appropriate conduct.

The key is the creative aspect which arises out of the individuality the artist cultivates by pursuing their own path and which is dappened by the professionals conformity to established systems.

When artists are found in the workplace they may seem odd, but they are the folks who will innovate.

They can look at problems from new angles, and their perspective can help create a better culture because it can stimulate dialogue and reveal improvable strategies or procedures.

One of the requirements in the human resources class I am currently enrolled in is that I have to teach for one day. The topics that I chose to teach about are organizational culture and employee motivation. This post is about my most important findings.

Scholars Arie Halachmi and Theo van der Krog recommend the following:

What managers should do:

  • Develop challenging but attainable goals
  • Give honest feedback regarding performance, emphasize learning
  • Create and instill a vision of your employees’ careers in the organization
  • Encourage participation and a team atmosphere
  • Realize the solution to poor performance is not micromanaging; employees need autonomy
  • Ensure and communicate a sense of justice
  • Care about your employees
  • Defend your employees
  • Fight for good working conditions and a friendly work environment
  • Let your employees have say and show trust and respect
  • Be a role model, lead by example

What managers should not do:

  • Demotivate

This may seem obvious, but often the biggest challenge to motivation is a manager’s tendency to demotivate. The biggest way they do this is by violating an employee’s sense of fairness, justice, or equity. When this happens the most important thing to do is to just listen.

Also, do not let your ego get to you. Sometimes managers do. They do things like forbid a flexible schedule or micromanage because they feel they have to have direct contact with their employees or their job doesn’t matter.

  1. Express their intentions.
  2. Tell you they’re busy, but they’ll get back to you when they can.
  3. Empathetically inform you when you’ve made a mistake.
  4. Listen to what you feel you need.
  5. Introduce you to other people who can help you.
  6. Give honest feedback about your strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Shun selfishness and put their egos to the side.
  8. Share stories about their failures.
  9. Live with a sense of values and help you develop your values.
  10. Commit to being lifelong learners.