Staying Engaged is Job 1- Yours and No One Else’s

Don’t try to reach my Dad at home during the day, at least not during the week before 4:00PM, he’s at work. Monday through Friday 9-4PM, that’s his schedule. Now you might say that doesn’t sound very demanding, he’d say that it is just about right. My Mom can drop him off in the morning without getting up too early, she usually doesn’t go to bed until around 1:00AM, and he can take the bus home in the afternoon and still have time for about a 30 minute nap before dinner. He is 86, she is 85, they are fully engaged with their lives and have schedules that they keep and don’t you interfere with the timing either, it throws them off!

This may seem like a funny place to start a conversation on your responsibility for your own engagement but read on and see if you continue to feel that way.

My Dad was one of those people who found out the hard way that loyalty to an employer is not always rewarded; he worked for one company for 30+ years and then was replaced without notice by the boss’s son. I guess you could say that he was as old school as you can get when it came time for putting his company’s interest before his own. He had actually had several offers over the years to move on but he always came down on the side of his employer having been good to him.

The events surrounding his dismissal are still somewhat foggy for me but the good news was that it took him about a half a day of feeling sorry for himself to realize that he was now released from his self imposed bondage and could go on to do anything he wanted to. That was almost thirty years ago now and he has not missed a day of work since. After coming to his personal epiphany, he set out to work as an independent electrician for several years, staying as busy as he wanted to be but eventually went back to an employed situation, not so much for the security as for the camaraderie. He had come to realize that as much as anything there was a great deal of social reward for him in the employment situation.

Pretty ordinary story, I agree, except for the part that I haven’t mentioned which was that other than the personal ego discomfort and maybe some embarrassment about not seeing it coming my Dad really got over the shock very quickly, my mother as well. They didn’t like what had happened but neither were they devastated, they didn’t go into the tailspin I have seen take over so many families when there is a loss of income or position.

My parents are both children of the Great Depression and that fact of life had so significantly shaped their lives that they had always lived as if those events could occur again. I don’t mean like living in fear, they took a pragmatic approach, "If something happened once it could happen again." So when what they were prepared for actually occurred they rolled through it and on into the rest of their lives and have not looked back.

Simple story, profound lesson, one worth considering; so are these questions…

  • Are you living like there is a tomorrow you can count on and income that is predictable into the foreseeable future?
  • Are you playing your cards close to the vest so as not to draw too much attention to yourself at work in hopes that being adequate will be sufficient?
  • Are you committed beyond your financial means?
  • Do you have an identity that is based on that you are what you do, who you work for, where you live, where your kids go to school?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you are severely compromised, you cannot possibly be fully engaged, and essentially a detriment to yourself and your employer; not only that you are extremely vulnerable whether you realize it or not.

These days doing good work is not necessarily enough to keep you secure, even if your company is doing well. A “tip of the hat” goes to Kris Dunn who suggested that we take a look at Henry Blodget’s piece in the Business Insider War Room from January 6th and ponder the questions he poses there about whether we should make a practice of dismissing our merely adequate employees. Yikes!

Speaking of engaged I recommend a regular visit to Kris’s blog, The HR Capitalist, even if you are not involved with HR. Kris is an example of what a fully expressed, passionate fully engaged HR executive looks and sounds like and his posts will make you want to apply for work at his company. It is just good for you, like taking strong medicine.

So back to my Dad and Mom now. Do you still think they were a strange example of being responsible for your own engagement? If you do I should send you over to their house some evening where you will most likely find them sitting quietly together in the living room, my Dad working crossword puzzles, my Mom fussing with a sudoku. They both love being alive and have read that keeping your mind active is one of the best way to stave off the mental effects of aging. Be prepared to talk loud though, as engaged and curious as they still are they are both deaf as a door jam and not willing to do anything about it!



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