Burning illusions and starting afresh

February 1, 2013 · Filed Under identity based praxis, reflections, style 

When BNP Paribas terminated withdrawals from three hedge funds citing “a complete evaporation of liquidity” on August 7th, 2007, it didn’t have the slightest effect on employees anywhere. Business was booming and companies were recording record performance.

Things were different in September, 2008: higher level employees like CEOs, general managers, managing directors and others in strategic roles were faced with questions they never had to answer before both from their subordinates and their boards. But interestingly in some industries business continued for a few months like nothing had happened. I remember one confident manager in the Czech Republic telling me in November: I was in Pandorf (a small village in Austria with a big outlet plaza) over the weekend; it was packed. There is no crisis here! His pipeline was also full. Within 2 weeks orders got cancelled, all of as sudden there was no pipeline and Pandorf lost its prestige as a reliable economic indicator.

Now we have the first 3rd of Q1 in 2013 behind us and a lot of those managers from 4 years ago have “consulting” in their linkedin profile which is another word for being unemployed (if they changed their linkedin profile at all) - some of them for as long as 2 years already! They have to touch their savings now. Most of them never faced this situation before: times have changed dramatically.

The common denominator between most CEOs and waiters for example is that they are both employees. The difference is that it’s much easier for a waiter to find another job and they feel less threatened if they must change their lifestyle.

I have conversations with ex managers on a daily basis. Their “strategy” for survival is surprisingly similar:

- find consulting gigs from previous employers AND

- continue “looking” for a job AND

- maybe start a company

None of them are working.

The first two don’t work because despite all evidence to the contrary, they still believe in a strange illusion: if you reach the top of a career (meaning that you become a C guy, a gm, an md, whatever) somehow you’re in control. Now that they are out of the system they still WANT to believe this: the title has become their identity. This is especially bad in Europe where failure is frowned upon and they consider THEMSELVES as failures, loosing confidence and eventually getting caught up in a vicious circle.

The 3rd one doesn’t work simply because you can’t start and run a company with the mentality of an employee.

They are paralyzed and feel that the only thing they can do is to go from interview to interview, waiting for something to happen; the whole thing reminds me of how a tiger that was born in captivity desperately wants to go back to the cage when he’s been released into his natural habitat.

Changing our own mentality is unbelievably tough; as tough as changing our lives. What’s been happening since 2008 is not a shakeout, it’s a cleansing fire that burns up our illusions about employment, careers and entrepreneurship. I thought it maybe worth making a short list of the most common illusions that hold managers back from moving forward:

- Nobody is born as a corporate function! This is tough to believe, but it’s true. Nobody is born as a payroll administrator, a marketing manager, a controller, an IT guy, etc. You won’t ever be fulfilled even if you get a certificate that proves that officially you are the world’s BEST controller!

- There is no such thing as corporate Darwinism: the natural unfolding of life does NOT happen according to corporate hierarchies! The VP is not a superior life form to a manager in an evolutionary ladder: if you’re a VP and believe this, Darwinism may catch up with you in the end after all, and you may go extinct. Also: an employee doesn’t have more prestige than an entrepreneur and vice versa.

- Prestige doesn’t come from a position or anything quantitative like the money you make, the car you drive, the home you live in and similar. There is only one thing that determines your prestige: the impact you make on others. Naturally the more authentic you are, the bigger the impact you can make.

- Authenticity doesn’t mean read/look/listen and repeat. The least authentic guys are probably those strangely upbeat and annoyingly loud evangelists who are spreading the “good news” to anybody who listens and also to those who don’t. Authenticity is knowing who you are and looking at everything through this lens, doing things that correspond with your identity and simply not doing things that don’t. It’s always quiet, intelligent and considerate and it is not concerned with rewards or risks.

Not being employed is a great chance to start living and working authentically. Wake up and don’t waste this unique chance by holding on to destructive illusions for years. You used to have a nice cushy job, great! It’s like your first love that will never come back. You gotta move on!

One last note: if you are employed and miserable, here’s a list of reasons from James Altucher on why to quit your job right now. YOU MUST READ THIS not for getting motivation but to get real:



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