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4 Reasons Why Ayn Rand and "Atlas Shrugged" Should Guide Your Career Choices...

The economy's in the toilet, and the horror stories are all around you.  You can't read the newspaper without learning of another 10,000 layoffs.  It's easy to hunker down, not make waves and just try to ride this thing out.  Put it in auto-pilot and hopefully stick your head out of the hole to check the weather in mid-2010, right?

There's just one problem with that risk-adverse approach. If you're one of the talented ones, that doesn'tAtlasShrugged help the economy, it doesn't help your company, and it doesn't help you.

Believe it or not, your company and/or your business need you to be selfish and do what's in your self interest.  When you use your talents to help yourself, lots of other people win, including your family.  It's the career version of why America needs business owners and shouldn't chase ownership off with high taxes.

I'm not telling you to be nasty to others.  I'm telling you not to be afraid to take what's yours from a performance standpoint.  You need to channel Gordon Gecko, a little Trump, a little Ayn Rand in the workplace.  Stop being scared and start being selfish regarding your performance.

More on why getting unfrozen in a recession and channeling Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged is good for your career and your company from BNET:

"How did a Russian-born novelist become such an influential “thought leader” for American CEOs, entrepreneurs, and MBAs — and even Alan Greenspan? Consider the message behind Ayn Rand best sellers The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which speaks to anyone with ambition and a big ego: The gifted should do what’s in their self-interest. If you have a sharp mind, it is your moral responsibility to make yourself happy. The weak are not your problem. “I am for an absolute laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy,” Rand told CBS interviewer Mike Wallace in 1959. “If you separate the government from economics, if you do not regulate production and trade, you will have peaceful cooperation, harmony, and justice among men.”

Rand’s critics claim that the current financial crisis proves her theories unrealistic and selfish. “Her economic ideas were never really relevant or workable,” says Rick Wilson, a sociology instructor at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., which offers a class on Rand’s writings. “The time we’re living through is just another example of that.” And yet 51 years after Atlas Shrugged was published, Rand’s writing still wields considerable influence in business.

I read the entire article, and it feels like a call to become entrepreneurial in my career.  Or at least to be afraid of being average or mediocre these days.  Not because I'm worried about being laid off.  Because I'm worried that if I lose that edge, I suck.

Seriously, don't get frozen career-wise in a recession.  Do what you are good at and do it aggressively.  Here are five reasons why doing what makes you happy in the workplace is good for your company and your career:

1.  When you do what you're good at, you're at your creative best.  Your company needs your creativity right now, both from a revenue and expense control standpoint.  Let your freak flag fly. Early and often.

2.  When you do what you're good at, you create opportunities for others to shine. Your teammates need you to be the spark if you're one of the best.  Don't play to the lowest common denominator just because there's a recession brewing.

3. Doing what you are good at aggressively and without apology is a portable skill.  You really can't control what happens economically to your company at a macro level.  Using your talents to do work others can't creates a portfolio that separates you from the pack if you do have to make a career change in a recession. 

4. This isn't soccer, and you didn't start your career to play for the tie.  Seriously, if you are a player and a top performer, can you really live with playing it safe?  It's like watching a soccer game that's tied 1-1 and both teams kick it around the midfield for the last 10 minutes of the game.  Make a play. Win the game. Don't worry about offending someone you're better than. You're good at what you do, not a soccer coach.

That's all I got.  Don't be scared, and remember that it's OK to be selfish with your own performance. I'm not telling you to run over everyone in the workplace or to be uncaring to those who have lost jobs, etc. I'm telling you not to get frozen from a career standpoint because you see the body count climbing around you.

The quickest way to become part of the body count?  By not bringing your A-game and being selfish when it comes to demanding top performance and creativity when you're on the job. 

Shine on you crazy diamond...

Comments

Michael D. Haberman, SPHR

Kris:
An excellent post. Mr. Dunn at his finest. Makes me want to try to read Ayn Rand again, or more correctly for the first time, though I have tried numerous times. You brought your A game in this one my friend. Thanks for the kick in the butt to shake us out of our doldrums.

Michael VanDervort

Great job. I am passing the post on to my boss ...

kentropic

"Do what you're good at and do it aggressively" is great advice, and timely. Now is emphatically NOT the time to turtle-up and try to ride out a turbulent job market inside your shell.

However, following Ayn Rand on social, labor and economic policy is *atrocious* advice! To wit: “I am for an absolute laissez-faire, free, unregulated economy,” Rand told CBS interviewer Mike Wallace in 1959. “If you separate the government from economics, if you do not regulate production and trade, you will have peaceful cooperation, harmony, and justice among men.”

Really?? That's how you get salmonella in your peanut butter, e. coli in your burgers and Bernie Madoff et al. making omelettes with your nest egg. Yeah, freedom from regulation: that's JUST what we need....

Joel Kimball

Money, KD. You're the best.

As for salmonella in PB amd omelettes w/your nest egg...hmm, those occured in a highly regulated environment. Both industries. I strongly recommend sitting back and further pondering Master Dunn's points re: Ms. Rand. Pax

kentropic

So, Joel, by your reasoning, if I carry an umbrella into a rainstorm, but part of me gets wet, then I should... throw away the umbrella? No, thanks. This way madness lies (and correlation is not causation).

I agree 100% with the substance of the career advice on offer here from Kris. But I disagree with the attempt to base it upon an "every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost" worldview.

And I strongly recommend pondering an introductory logic textbook (like this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attacking_Faulty_Reasoning).

Kevin Saghy

You had me at Atlas Shrugged. Thanks for the post, it served as an excellent reminder and motivator.

Doug A.

kentropic insinuates that Rand's conception of laissez-faire capitalism would inevitably lead to salmonella in peanut butter and scam-artists such as Bernie Madoff running wild. However, this is gravely mistaken.

When Ayn Rand spoke of laissez-faire capitalism, she did not mean a lawless society. Ms. Rand described a strong government as necessary to protect all individuals from physical force and fraud. Thus, under laissez-faire capitalism, there will be laws against knowingly (or through gross negligence) selling diseased peanut butter as well as conning people into investing in a Ponzi scheme.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Ayn Rand's specific views on government, I highly recommend her essay 'The Nature of Government' which is in both the book 'The Virtue of Selfishness' as well as in the book 'Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.'

If anyone is interested in learning about Ayn Rand's ideas as such, I highly recommend reading her most celebrated novel: 'Atlas Shrugged'.

Jake

kentropic,
It is under the FDA's watch that we got salmonella peanut butter.
Indulge me in a thought experiment: name one thing that could happen that would persuade you that more regulation is *not* a solution.

kentropic

In Rand's own words, regulation is no longer necessary when we have "peaceful cooperation, harmony, and justice among men" without it.

Unfortunately, history amply demonstrates that there are *always* those who're willing to cut corners and sacrifice public safety to advance their own narrow self-interest -- from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire to the present day. All the sophomoric fantasy novels in the world can't wish away that fact.

And as long as we're basing policy on the high-school AP English reading list, how about Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a thorough description of life's utopian joys in the unregulated marketplace?

RMSJr

"Who is John Galt?"

Atlas Shrugged is required reading.

Great post Kris.

Pennington

Thank goodness Doug A wrote in. I only regret he didn't provide more detail. The other retorts to kentropic were puerile. However, I would be interested in what Doug A. has to say about The Jungle.

Kim Chamberlayne

You are so on point!!!! I hope everyone gets it. I know I did !!! Thank you so very much...for brining your A game to the blog

Jessica

Great post! Linked to it in UpMo.com's Top 10 posts on career management in a recession: http://www.upmo.com/blog/upmos-top-10-managing-your-career-in-a-recession

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