A Business Forum Book Review:
Toxic Work: How to Overcome Stress, Overload
and Burnout, and Revitalize Your Career
How do I win -- or even survive -- when the goal posts are moving continually?
How do I maintain equanimity in an environment of instability?
The remembrance of professional stability in the workplace may be more a nostalgic embellishment than historic fact. But all statistical indices confirm that throughout virtually every institution and corporation stability is a tale from the past -- a notion about as relevant to today’s economy as Camelot. Turbulence, re-structuring, down-sizing, transitioning: a new vocabulary has emerged seeking to define a society unimagined only a generation ago.
While change has been the breathless descriptor of the industrial phenomena occurring over the past two centuries, both the rate and the depth of change happening during the past two decades have been of a new order of magnitude. There is no longer even an attempt to maintain institutional or corporate stability. Stability is perceived to be a symptom of failure, of morbidity.
The absence of stability has shattered old-fashioned notions of loyalty. Most employers as well as employees find loyalty to be rather quaint. Not only are employees and employers expendable, but "customer relationship management" (CRM) continually measures the value of each and every customer and effectively discards the least profitable customers -- marketing triage. Customers, too, are expendable.
As Director of the award-winning Career Development Center at Smith College, Barbara B. Reinhold, Ed.D. is on the front lines of this revolution in the workplace. Recognizing that more than one third of all American workers are now free agents, she offers us Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free Agent Economy (Plume / Penguin Putnam, Inc., 258 pages, $14.00), a road map enabling us to prosper and flourish in today’s world of corporate and institutional upheaval and betrayal. She is a tough and realistic guide.
The theme of this work is established in its opening paragraph: "People are tired of not being in charge of their own work lives -- tired of wondering when the next merger might send them packing, tired of being forced to choose between their families and their careers, tired of being discriminated against because of their age, tired of wanting desperately to use skills and interests that don’t fit into their current jobs. Clearly, people are eager to own their own lives, but they’re often not sure if that’s really possible for them."
Free to Succeed is a potent combination of inspiration, thoughtful questions, and practical "how to" guides. Barbara Reinhold defines the 10 Essential Strategies for Succeeding in the New Free Agent Economy -- a field manual outlining the effectual strategies to be employed in 10 different situations and environments. Strategy is the initial and most critical step in driving to free agency
Honest self-assessment is certainly the next step as one embarks upon free agency. To know who we are, six role models are offered of quite different free agents: Rebel (Eleanor Roosevelt), Free Spirit (Ben & Jerry), Imagineer (Charles Schulz), Gambler (Bill Gates), Philospher (Sophocles), and Desperado (Martha Stewart). Personal evaluation forms are included to help determine which is one’s most compatible type of free agent.
"For many free agents, however, the issue is not money. It’s more emotional and spiritual -- something just doesn’t feel right about the way they’re currently working. If you’re one of those people, you’re ahead of the game, because you are already tuning in to your own feeling, values, and sense of inner harmony. This is an essential, health-enhancing process which eludes too many people. ..."
The 7 Steps to Free Agency (Chapter Four) unrolls a particularly helpful blueprint:
Give yourself time and permission
Open to new possibilities
Imagine your project(s)
Find resources / plan logistics
Launch / make it happen
Fine-tune / make changes
Reevaluate: consider more change
The final 30 pages (Part Three) of this hard-nosed book presents 16 in-depth exercises designed "to get you moving." Of course, not all of these exercises will be helpful for everybody, but everybody will find several exercises that are immediately responsive to his/her needs, uncertainties and/or apprehensions. One or two of these exercises could be exactly the disciplinary tool you need, but did not even know you needed.
Free to Succeed addresses entrepreneurs, "intrapreneurs," the owners/managers of emerging businesses, artists, writers and freelancers -- to anyone seeking more creative career and/or family options. Barbara Reinhold gives us a chart for achieving greater fulfillment in our careers -- and in our life.
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Revised: June 25, 2001 TAF
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