The Kansas City Star published a forlorn editorial this week about the struggles of many people this Christmas.
I can relate. I’m much better off than many people, but this is the third Christmas in a row where my job has a hard end date attached to it. And this year, for the first time in my career, I made less money than I did the year before. For me, Christmas has been the worst day of the year for a very long time, because I know I can’t live up to everyone’s expectations of me.
But I’m better off than a lot of people. Right now I have a job. Some of my former coworkers took bigger pay cuts than I did this year, or they’re still looking. And, as bad as this year has been, I think everyone needs to go without work for a month or so sometime in their life. I think I have something that can help, but I’m gonna make you read something first. Or at least scroll a lot.
Here’s why I think everyone needs to go without for a little while. When I was out of work, we lived on a strict budget. I figured I could find a job in about a month, so I tripled that, and made a budget to fit that. If we spent a set amount on groceries and utilities and our other obligations each week, we’d be OK for about three months, especially if we dealt with minor emergencies in a prudent manner.
Well, that meant that we ran out of our kids’ favorite foods at some point during the week, before it was time to buy more. Having a two-year old ask for his favorite thing to eat, then his second, then his third, then run all the way down to something he normally wouldn’t eat at all does something to you. It’s not a good feeling. But now, about eight months later, I’m kind of glad I went through that because it gives me empathy.
I remember when an Internet friend–someone I’ve never met in person–was unexpectedly out of work this year, I posted something on Facebook about it. The poor guy was viciously attacked by strangers–some of my so-called friends–solely because of what he did for a living. They didn’t even know the guy, but he was pure evil in their eyes. He didn’t deserve a job.
It turned my stomach. No empathy. If they’d kick him when he’s down, they’d kick me too. It’s not hard to help. Some people just aren’t willing.
I’ve seen some other things too. I’ve seen people jump from job to job, never really getting anywhere. Some turn to pyramid schemes to help them pay the bills. I’ve seen some end up relying solely on pyramid schemes to make a living, shilling questionable products at sky-high prices. They’re ripping people off, but they’ve been brainwashed into thinking they’re saving the world, and who are they to trust anyone? The world has failed them.
I dislike that they’re ripping people off, but I feel sorry for them too, because I know they’re not making anywhere near a fair wage for the amount of effort they’re expending.
So don’t worry. My cure isn’t selling financial products or essential oils or some other high-markup item.
I think U.S. society realizes it has a problem, but sharply disagrees on its cause, so I don’t hold any hope that the problem is going to be fixed on a large scale any time soon.
So let’s talk about what I’ve learned, which applies on a small scale.
I’ve been working for people younger than me since the age of 32, which was a bit of a shock after spending the first decade of my career in shops that had unwritten rules that no manager could be under the age of 40. I never quite placed my finger on why those guys were fast-tracked for promotion over everyone else.
Then, this weekend I happened across an interview with Mark Horstman, a veteran podcaster and business consultant who runs a web site and series of podcasts called Manager Tools. I know what you’re thinking–what if you’re not a manager?
Re-think your definition of manager. A good manager isn’t someone who tells people what to do. A good manager gets stuff done, enlisting help where necessary. An effective worker has to do the same thing as the member of a team. The title is different, but the worker who works well with other people has a higher degree of job security and a better chance of being promoted.
And I’ve worked for some managers, especially in the last six months, who are peculiarly effective at getting other people to help them. Clearly they know something the rest of us don’t.
So do Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne. I’ve listened to four of their podcasts since this past weekend. I learned that some things about the way I take notes in meetings is very effective, but some of the things I did that served me so well in college send self-sabotaging signals in the workplace. The podcast identified some subtle changes I can make to send the right signals.
It’s not an easy cure, by any stretch. But it’s almost a certainty that by listening to one of the Manager Tools podcasts per week, it will be possible to identify some subtle change you can make in the way you work to make a measurable improvement.
And someone who does that successfully is likely to be in a much better place this time next year.