Obstacles to Engagement #2*: Rage Against the Machine


If a hip reference to a well known rock band (Rage Against the Machine) from the 1990’s, known for their highly political lyrics, made by a 63 year old white guy, has a tendency to tweak your beak then we are probably already off to a bad start this week. If not then hang in there, I promise this gets better.

Now wait a minute, if you are reading this you are probably quite a few years away from 63 and the only one who really needs an explanation for the title of this post is me! My bad.

‘Rage against the Machine’, I do like the sound of the phrase and it really is an example of a term that is self-explanatory. As an obstacle, anything that interrupts the ability to engage freely with our work is worthy of a conversation, especially when it involves something that is completely within our control, the rage that is. Rage against whatever or whoever, whether it is…

  • A co-worker
  • A manager
  • A policy
  • Them
  • They
  • Those guys in the ivory tower

(…you know who and what I mean, that which we grind our gears about), is unequivocally a waste of time, precious lifetime, the one resource you have that is truly yours and is non-renewable. Whenever I hear someone raging, ranting about their situation all I can ever think to ask is whether they understand the game they are playing. Business, it is a high contact pastime. Even in real high contact sports, when it is a matter of business, there is more than one way to get your bell rung. Here’s a really current example of what I am referring to…

February 22,2010, ‘CBS Sports Wire Reports’ earlier today reported that the San Diego Chargers of National Football League fame announced they have dismissed long time star running back LaDainian Tomlinson after a nine year career with the team. To quote the story, "The yards didn’t pile up as easily as in previous seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson was slowing down because of injuries and age, becoming less and less the face of the franchise as his role was reduced in a pass-happy offense. On Monday, he was released by the San Diego Chargers, a franchise he helped revive with a brilliant nine-year run in which he became one of the NFL’s greatest running backs.”

Oh by the way, Mr. Tomlinson had a $2M roster bonus due in March. Aaaaaahh! That’s not fair, after all he did for the team. Read the story. Back during Super Bowl week LaDanian spoke with his agent Tom Condon and let him know that he thought it was time to move on. This is a sign of someone who understands the game they are playing, he looked at the wall, he saw what was written there and he chose, to engage with the reality in which he found himself. Did he like it? I can’t imagine that he did. Could he change what was going to happen? Not very likely. Rather than rage against the team or wait for decision that was probably inevitable LaDanian chose to initiate action on behalf of his future. So am I saying you should always walk away from a fight? No, I am saying walk away from a whine!

Kris Dunn recently took a whack at this topic from where he sees things in his own post titled in part “…Rage Against the Machine.” His takes come from a different perspective as he poses the challenge to us where there is at least the possibility we can do something to preserve self-respect, rather than curl up in a ball and going catatonic.

Either way, Kris’s or LaDanian’s, it’s about being a player in the game going on right in front of you, that’s a choice for staying alive, for acting like you are on the playing field and not someone who got their popcorn spilled by some other rowdy fan.

Back in 19 and 79 I found myself getting all whiney about my situation in the big oil company. I was a rising star, by my own admission. Maybe my trajectory was a bit shallow but I knew I was meant for better things than waiting in line for the next available management opening blah, blah, blah. Truth be told I had educated myself as an HR professional to insure that I would be able to make a good living (reasonable but not inspirational) and while that was proving to be the case I was increasingly interested in things that I would later learn were part of the study of Organizational Development. "How could this Fortune 50 company not be doing more of what I was interested in doing?" Well they weren’t and for the most part they would not begin to for nearly another 10 years, at least on any scale.

One day late in that year I woke up and realized that there was nothing wrong, especially nothing wrong with the company where I was working. What had happened through no one’s fault was that I had discovered that something mattered more to me than simply making a living, its called a passion. Most importantly it dawned on me that I was the one who needed to take action. Within a very short period of time I had tendered my resignation and began plans to become my own employer in a company offering the services I wanted to provide. Along the way over the past 30 years there have been plenty of ups and downs and I have been on the field for everyone of them. What a great game I created for myself!

Can you say for true that you love the game you are playing today?

*There is no real order or rank to the Obstacles, I am just making a list as I go along.



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