Awasu » From Buddhism to Zen
Thursday 1st March 2007 2:24 PM [General]

Anicca (or "impermanence") is a key concept in Buddhism that simply says "everything changes".

It will take a few months to complete but today I started the process of tearing down my life and rebuilding it in a completely different way for no other reason [1] than because I can. I've done this many times but, like jumping out of aeroplanes, it never ceases to be completely terrifying. It causes a lot of inconvenience, stress and expense but is also insanely exciting 😉

As often happens, Fate sent several relevant articles my way this past week. First up, Seth Godin wrote recently about what he calls "sheep walking":

I define "sheepwalking" as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line.

You've probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking.

The TSA 'screener' who forces a mom to drink from a bottle of breast milk because any other action is not in the manual. A 'customer service' rep who will happily reread a company policy six or seven times but never stop to actually consider what the policy means. A marketing executive who buys millions of dollars of TV time even though she knows it's not working--she does it because her boss told her to.

Perhaps a little harsh but not far off the mark. There are indeed many people who go to work, day in, day out, doing meaningless work because it never occurred to them that they could be doing something else. Or worse, they are fully aware of the pointlessness of it all but are too lazy or too timid to do anything about it. And while many people might recognize the malaise in their working life, they often don't realize that it extends into their personal life as well. How many people go to school, get a job, get married, have kids and a mortgage or two because that's what everyone else does? They never stop to think that it could be any other way or if they do, decide that it's just too risky or too much work to buck the trend. If that's the kind of life you actually want, fine and good, but seeing people sheepwalk through their lives is just too tragic for words.

And he's absolutely correct when he says that it all starts in school:

Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?

And graduate school? Since the stakes are higher (opportunity cost, tuition and the job market), students fall back on what they've been taught. To be sheep. Well-educated, of course, but compliant nonetheless.

And many organizations go out of their way to hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance. And then they give these people jobs where they are managed via fear. Which leads to sheepwalking. ("I might get fired!")

I've long held the belief that a lot of what's wrong around us can be explained by one simple thing: people are lazy. We accept what we are fed by the media because it's easier than doing the research to try find out what's really going on. We place so much importance on school grades because it's easier to distill a person and their performance over many years down to a single number and compare that against a curve, rather than go to the trouble of finding out who each person really is and what their strengths and weaknesses are (and more importantly, why).

Where I disagree with Godin is when he claims that much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the employer, not the employee. Ultimately, each and every one of us must take responsibility for what we do and the consequences thereof so to point the finger at our employers and say that it is somehow their fault is just plain nuts.

Penelope Trunk, a columnist at the Boston Globe, continues the theme with a crackerjack article about the myth behind the value of a stable, long-term job.

It used to be that finding a good paying career was the path to adult-life stability. Those days are over. What we think of as stability has to change, and how we get to that stability has to change.


[W]hat else is there to do? Work at IBM until you get a gold watch? There are no more jobs like that - companies are under too much pressure to be lean and flexible (read: layoffs, downsizing, reorgs), so workers have to be, too (read: constantly on the alert for new job possibilities).

Sure, some employers might take a dim view of job-hoppers, but it's increasingly becoming a sellers' market if you're actually any good at what you do [2] so while they may secretly want sheepwalkers, if they truly want people who are half-way decent, they might just have to suck it up 😀 The social contract between employers and the employed is long dead, so why not just do what inspires and excites you instead of sheepwalking your way to that gold watch (maybe)?

It comes back to taking responsibility for yourself. You can no longer rely on, or even expect, your employer to take care of you. You have to be prepared to be "downsized" tomorrow, be able to land on your feet and find another job, perhaps in a completely different field. Flexibility is paramount, as is having a broad range of different skills since specializing is a sure-fire way to torpedo your career.

[C]ommon paths to stability no longer work. Professional degrees used to be viewed as a safe path, but now they box you into uncomfortable spots. PhD’s are having lots of trouble finding work due to the documented glut of qualified candidates, and the MBA is not a huge help to your career unless you go to a top-ten school.

As Trunk says, you should "get good at making transitions". But instead of waiting for them to be imposed upon you, why not go out and make them happen instead 😉

Instability is the new stability. How very Zen 😎

[1]Well, that's actually not quite true. Part of the reason is so that I can focus more on Awasu. The things I do for you guys... 🙂 🙄
[2]And there has long been a dire shortage of competent I.T. people. There's a scary conversation going on right now in tech circles about the large number of people who are unable to do even the simplest programming task in job interviews. I used to be responsible for hiring programmers at one gig I had years ago and while it was never quite this bad, I see no reason for things to have gotten better and would be surprised if they hadn't gotten worse 🙄

One Response to this post

Thanks for linking to Brazen Careerist.

Your post does such a nice job of showing how we can find so much more meaning in work if we integrate it with the values we hold for the rest of our life. I love the idea of zen job hopping 🙂


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