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How a Sucky Economy Makes A Professional Identity Outside of the Workplace More Important...

A member of my team at DAXKO received a subscription email from Patrick Lencioni this week (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death By Meeting, The Five Temptations of a CEO, and other best sellers - some of which you’ll find in DAXKO’s Learning Center).  It might also be something you could send along as encouragement to a friend who is struggling with a job loss or a less than ideal career situation.

What follows are excerpts from that letter.  My thoughts after the jump:

Rediscovering Work

…When I graduated from college and started looking for a job a little over twenty years ago, therePoliceCards seemed to be a new attitude emerging—one that had probably been slowly taking shape for twenty years before that—about the importance of finding deep meaning and fulfillment in a job. Gone were the days of simply looking for a secure job in a stable industry. The new movement encouraged young people to find their true passions, be unconventional, and blaze their own trails.

I have to admit that I was a big proponent—and still am—of helping people discover their talents and gifts and find an outlet for them in work is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ll also admit that I assumed that this new ascent up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would never be reversed. But given the fundamental changes we’re seeing in the global economy, we may just be sliding back down Maslow’s pyramid a little, and maybe even staying there for a while. In other words, I think we’re going to start having lower expectations about finding the perfect, meaningful and custom-fitted job, and developing a new kind of appreciation for the old notion of work.

…I believe some hidden blessings may come out of all this.

For one, this emphasis on finding a perfect job has created something of a sense of guilt or disappointment for so many people who, because of economic or educational limitations, weren’t in a position to land their dream job. They never became a roller-coaster architect or an author of children’s books or a rocket scientist. Instead, they did the best they could to find a relatively interesting job in a field that would allow them to pay the bills. Given everything that’s happening today, they’re going to be feeling better about what they’re doing, and happier than ever to simply be working. That’s a good thing.

And then there are the people who were industrious and fortunate enough to find one of those cool jobs, but who experienced their own disappointment when they came to the inevitable realization that designing roller coasters and writing books and building rockets didn’t turn out to be the party they expected it to be, and that a rewarding career is not the answer to all of life’s problems. The fact is, even rock stars and advertising executives and fashion designers experience the drudgery of work, not unlike bank tellers and plumbers and retail clerks; they just feel worse about it because they didn’t expect their work to become, well, work. Now they too can find a little relief and reset their expectations about the reality of having a job.

Finally, and most importantly, this shift away from needing a perfect job might just bring about a new appreciation for the simple gift that is work. This is something that my parents’ generation seemed to understand better than mine. To be gainfully employed, to labor with integrity in any way for the good of customers or co-workers or family, really can be its own reward. That is making sense to me now more than it has at any time in my career…

Pat Lencioni

I like the thoughts - all work has merit and meaning.  That said, I'm going to spin it another way. The fact that many people are having to adjust/reset their expectations regarding the type of job they'll have in this economy, and perhaps (based on where they're at in their career) the level they'll play at, calls for another movement - don't let your job define you as a professional.  Develop a professional identity outside the workplace.  Be involved in conversations relevant to your profession outside of your work.

Develop a professional identity outside the workplace, and you'll never be held hostage intellectually to the job you currently have.  The biggest virus going around my set of friends due to the economy is fear.  One way to deal with that is to reset your expectations regarding your job and know that it's OK if you feel underemployed, because you can still find enjoyment with work regardless of the role. 

That's a good fallback, but I think a better place to be mentally is to say that you're an Accounting professional, a HR pro, etc., and not a Director of HR for ACME.  If you're a Director of HR for ACME, and you have nothing else mentally, if ACME goes under you're going to panic.

If you developed a professional identity outside of ACME in the local and national HR communities, you're going to feel much more solid emotionally if ACME goes under.  Why?  Because ACME didn't define you professionally, it was simply part of the portfolio that is you.  That sounded a bit like Tony Robbins, but it's true.

So, use social media, write, get involved in local and regional organizations, volunteer, etc. - all with the goal of establishing a professional identity outside of work.  You'll be happy you did, and your fear meter will go down as a result.



I've always believed that language has power. So I never like to say "I am a Compensation professional," because that sounds like that's how I define myself. Instead I always try to say "I work as a Compensation professional." It's a small difference, but I'm so much more than the work I do every day, so it's an important difference. I am very lucky that I do mostly like my job, but I wouldn't be devastated and feel undefined if I were to be laid off. Good post!


I like this post and think it rings very true. I do like my job but usually can find something to complain about or find myself dreaming of something that's a little more perfect. That has completely changed in this environment. I'm so incredibly thankful to still be working. I've also learned it's very important to connect with others outside of your company. You can't believe that the company will never change or be there forever.


Kris, I just wanted to say that I'm a big fan. As a former VP - HR at Pepsi, I love your blog and your HR perspective on current events. It really inspires and jolts my own thinking in a positive way. FYI - I've highlighted you as an HR blogger to follow and emulate in my article on "No BS HR Career Strategies at:

Thanks again for all you do.


Scott Stone

Great post - and your thoughts are something that, candidly, I would have expected PL to include in his letter to your colleague.


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