The Greatest Resignation

When life itself seems lunatic,
who knows where madness lies?
Perhaps to be too practical is madness.
To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness
— and maddest of all:
to see life as it is, and not as it should be! 

Miguel Cervantes,  Don Quixote

We are drowning in a sea of madness. The madness in our acceptance of our inferior lives. The madness of waiting for something, hoping for something, and allowing fear and practicality to domesticate our dreams. We are addicted to madness. Until we are not. 

There is a strange and unprecedented tsunami of change in the world of work: The Great Resignation.

A recent Pew survey found that 67% of the unemployed were considering a career change. The proportion of Americans who say they plan to work beyond the age of 62 has fallen to all-time lows. People are waking up to what they want in their lives and it isn’t more time in the office or on the factory floor. And some companies are trying to respond with new benefits and even shorter work weeks—but is it all too little too late?

In April of this year, a record number of employees left their jobs. Then in July, even more people quit. In August another record was set. The Labor Department reported that almost 4.5 million more workers resigned in September, the highest ever. Simultaneously there are waves of labor strikes across the country. There is a growing human resistance towards the stagnant wages and increasingly oppressive working environments. 

Does this signal great change? Or merely impact our lagging supply chain?

I am a recovering devotee of a “labor of love”. I viewed my job as life defining. I never worked to live, I lived to work! And I am guilty of perpetuating cultures and expectations that demanded the same from my colleagues. Over many years, I tried to bring my own forms of humanity to the workplace, but the friction with my superiors and the pressure for results took its toll. I loved every one of my positions, but the human degradation I witnessed push me to retire 10 years earlier than I planned. 

One’s labor of love becomes a love of labor—of being busy. Of taking daily doses of the drug of the routine and predictable. You put on your helmet and go into the trenches. Orders are given and your job is to comply and exceed expectations. Tiny carrots are held out and bigger sticks loom. You begin to think you have no choices. 

The short version of this, not to put too fine a point on it, is that a lot of people realized during the pandemic that their boss doesn’t really care if they die. Sarah Jaffe: author  of “Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone.” 

You don’t have to read her book to know it is true. In general, work is a machine and the human cogs are replaceable and no one is indispensable regardless of the Supreme Court arguments you can muster about your unique contributions. Nature abhors a vacuum, and your planned or unplanned vacancy will get redistributed in an instant. Your name, your office nameplate and your amazing personality will be faint and distant memories within moments of when the door swings closed. 

There is an ironic RIF happening— a real Reduction in Force! Just not coming from some corporate office’s brutal “re-structuring” edict. But there is a human recession, the tide is going out and taking a lot of fishes to the open sea. 

But there is something strangely hopeful abut the Great Resignation. People taking action. Not complaining and whining and describing some far-fetched scenarios of change. But telling their bosses they are done and moving on. 

What does it really mean? Where are they going? A prolonged employment “gap” year to determine what one wants to be when they grow up? An expansion of existentialism with lower expenses and expectations? 

Perhaps. I wish. 

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.― Michelangelo

The first step to any adventure is to go. To be free to explore and to be transformed by the experience. 

I fear that the Great Resignation will not realize its potential. To see these millions of people take a leap of faith—and not go all the way. Yes, to pursue a kinder and gentler lifestyle. Yes, to find space and time to breathe in the things that matter. Yes, to awaken to what is important.

We all know that changing the venue is only the first step. The environment and culture of a job can create a delusion where the values and priorities of self and servitude are conflated. Sometimes making an external change can shift perspective, lower anxiety, and even provide moments of happiness. But real change comes from within. 

What is it I want? 
What will I do to feed my hunger to be my whole self?
How can I express it in writing? 
How will I seek help and feedback from my trusted network?

Don’t get distracted by finding the perfect job. Some mythical workplace where you are overpaid to pursue world peace part time with your best friends.

Remind yourself, you are pursuing a new life and lifestyle. You have to make enough money to take care of yourself and your family “comfortably”. What can you do to give yourself the most flexibility to take a few risks and endure a few bumps in the road? You mean not spend more than we make? What a concept! So understand your financial needs. 

Each time I did this. Changed careers, sectors, and positions—I had to understand my minimum financial needs and re-educate myself on what I wanted. Not just accept the status quo of expenses and opportunities that I had. I took three substantial comp hits to find new worlds of work. And in every case the ROI to my heart and my wallet were rewarded.

For me, and the people I coach, I stress three essential elements in making a major career change:
1.    Mission: Be aligned with the work and WHY it matters to you.
2.    Milieu: Culture, culture, culture! How this environment is compatible with you.
3.    Management: Your boss. The person hiring you and supervising you. Chemistry and compatibility are critical to reap the rewards of #1 and #2.

Resigning your job took guts and gumption. But don’t just find a better job. Find a better you.

This can be a scary time. But you are in control.

The Greatest Resignation is when we resign ourselves to only what we know and again let others determine our fate. This is madness. 

Or we see ourselves for the first time in a long time. And rekindle the love for oneself. And take control to design our own destinies. 

Thanks for reading. John

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