Occasionally I come across a video on YouTube that inspires me to consider a problem from a different angle. Last night was one of those videos. It was on the subject of personal development and its host correctly observed that some people are never taught responsibility.
One of the problems I have long struggled with are the broken, paranoid workplaces we tolerate in these United States, but I believe I am slowly zeroing in on the problem.
I discovered relatively early that I would never be able to rely on a job to provide for myself or a family. It wasn’t long after the CFO of the gigantic company where I had just started my 401k became the target of an investigation for cooking the books that any hope of a long-term career was swept away into ashes like the unfortunate heroes in the last Avengers film. We all live in a short-term economy now where jobs are acquired and discarded (or swiped) like paper towels, and are about as valuable.
Because my working life started out in a brokerage firm, I’m a little more sensitive to money topics than most. I recognize, for example, that motives gravitate to money. If something makes a person $2 rather than $1, they will do the former in almost every circumstance, no matter how theoretically destructive it may be to themselves or others. Money is the lens through which you can accurately discern nearly any motive.
So when trying to determine the why of a situation, I almost always start by asking “which option gets the decision maker more money right now?” Why was Toys-R-Us burned to the ground? Because it was worth more cash dead than alive. Why are so many women working now? Because employers can keep more money if they use 100% more staff as an excuse to underpay both men and women.
Why are so many people having trouble finding stable careers? Is it possible you’re worth more unemployed than employed?
This isn’t a simple topic, because it weaves together a number of problems into a cohesive whole. For openers, we have tremendous trouble getting people to take anything seriously in this country right now. The juvenile constituency we apparently turned the Internet over to at some point is far more interested in making rude noises and throwing things at others than they are in tolerating grown-ups or their boring ideas. That’s why sites like The Onion and Reddit and imbeciles like John Oliver have a place at the table (and a perceived security council-esque veto) in our vital public discourse. People who behave in a grown-up manner are treated with either ridicule or suspicion, at least until everything goes to hell, then all the kids run to dad to make it all better. That’s fine in the average family. When the kids outnumber the dads three million to one it’s a little tougher.
This is a symptom of the larger problem of arrested adolescence. Much of the confusion we are experiencing in this country right now is a result of the total absence of grown-ups. The rest is the result of the hostile and bitter reaction many have to the sudden introduction of grown-ups into what was previously adolescent chaos, much like the early return of parents to a teenage house party.
These problems are most pronounced in our workplaces, where the absence of grown-ups isn’t just an entertaining diversion, but a direct threat to your family’s survival. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to go into the dangers that await the average family with no income in America. Forty years ago, a man or woman could rely on their career as the anchor in their life. Today, a job is more often a liability, since its sudden withdrawal can create far more intense problems than just poverty.
If it is the case your boss is one of these arrested adolescents pretending to be a grown-up in our society, is it possible that he or she is motivated more by avoiding mistakes than failure? Most people realize you can do everything right and still fail. This is proven in every athletic championship. Sometimes you just get outplayed. It is for this reason we can conclude failure isn’t necessarily a mistake. Failure doesn’t demand blame.
Mistakes, on the other hand, always invite blame, and in the workplace, blame can be fatal, especially if it is wielded by an over-emotional adolescent obsessed with protecting themselves. We’ve all witnessed the favorite defense of every child in the court of parental law: “He made me do it!” Well, if those kids never grow up, this can become a theme in the workplace. Where these kinds of people gather, all productive enterprise is replaced by frenzied attempts to gain political advantage, and the best way to gain political advantage is to mold blame into a weapon and use it to corruptly dispatch rivals. Sound familiar?
It reaches a point where people will do anything or say anything to avoid taking responsibility. They become paranoid and pledge their very souls to choosing failure over mistakes whenever possible. The reason they do this is because they were never taught that the proper response to a mistake is not to overturn the table, but to evaluate it and learn to avoid it in the future.
The alternative relegates everyone to a life of idle waste or missed opportunity, because none dare act unless forced. When these people are put in a position where they have to hire people, they face the ultimate risk of having to trust others, which intensifies their paranoia to unbearable levels. How can you trust anyone in a world where all is lost if anyone makes even the slightest mistake?
We have all experienced being perfectly qualified for a job and not being hired, only to find the same job re-advertised days later. Why does this happen? Because the hiring manager is paranoid about being blamed. The hiring manager is very likely an arrested adolescent who is terrified they will be exposed as someone who really doesn’t know how to do their job. They don’t know how to lead others, because they were never trained to be a leader. They can’t take responsibility for a mistake. They can’t look their boss in the eye and say “I made the call because I thought it was the right thing to do and I was wrong.” It’s completely beyond them, because they never grew up. They were never taught to be responsible. There are 19-year-old privates first class in the U.S. Marines more capable of taking responsibility for a mistake. Why? Because that PFC outranks other marines. He or she was trained to be a leader and to be responsible.
So these hiring managers make the backwards decision to pass on a perfectly qualified employee on the off chance they might be mistaken. Either that or they ask that candidate for evidence of such unattainable perfection that it can’t possibly be delivered truthfully.
As a result we all end up living in a world where, at least as far as a corps of adolescent hiring managers are concerned, we are more valuable unemployed.