It takes a lot to blow my mind. Really, a lot.
And recently I have, indeed, had my mind blown.
So let me tell you about it.
First, this thing kept coming up over and over again in my one-on-one coaching sessions. At first, just one person said it, then another, then three more and then – obviously, I’m lightning quick on the uptake – the shape of the thing became clear.
And I leaned back in my chair and said, “Wow.”
The realization is that some of us, even if we have a capital C in our title – CEO, COO, CFO – still see ourselves as hourly employees.
Especially if our parents were hourly employees. If our grandparents were hourly employees? Well, in that case, the mindset is often completely baked in.
So what, you ask? What’s wrong with hourly employment?
Nothing – I’ve had plenty of jobs that paid by the hour (Would You Like Fries With That?). There’s dignity, importance and purpose in working this way.
Though, sometimes, the clues we get working in hourly jobs are these:
- The boss is the boss and I do what the boss tells me to do
- I do my shift and that’s all I owe them
- Work is drudgery and it’s impossible to get ahead
- My schedule is not my own
- I could be fired at any time for any reason so I better sit down, shut up and look busy
These clues add up to an attitude we take with us when we move into a salaried role. I’ve seen it so many times, manifested as:
- Being fearful of (and overly deferential to) leadership
- Not taking a stand or having an opinion
- Working to the clock
- Anxiety, depression and uncertainty
Other folks take it in a whole other direction. They make it:
- “I’m being paid so much money – I have to give this job everything I’ve got!”
- Fearful of losing the job they never believed they could have
- Working with no boundaries
- Anxious about having sole responsibility for decision-making
- Impossible to have difficult conversations with subordinates
- No or limited interests outside of work
Now, of course, this doesn’t affect every hourly employee who’s ever moved into a salary role and not everyone responds the same way.
But enough do that it warrants a little exploration, if you ask me.
Because I have seen people sabotage their careers because they haven’t been able to make the mental jump from “someone who does what other people tell them to do” to “I tell people what to do.”
They can’t seem to figure out how to move from “I am on a tightrope over a chasm of failure” to “Mistakes happen and my role makes it possible for me to learn and lead regardless.”
It’s a big leap from “I’m a cog in the machine” to “I run the machine.”
Most of us will work for years and years. My Social Security summary shows that I paid my first FICA tax in 1977 (from an hourly wage job!). Assuming that I continue working until I’m 70, that’s a work life spanning 53 years. Fifty-three years, darlings.
That is a long time to simply survive.
It’s enough time to realize that each of us what we learned in the past may have suited us in the past, but today is today. And it’s completely fair to consider: What works for me today?
Could it be appreciating an hourly past but living right now, in these circumstances?
Maybe it’s creating a life and a career that works not only for you but for the people you’re connected with – family, friends, colleagues and superiors alike.
I believe it’s also the satisfaction that comes from knowing, regardless of all the obstacles, that you’ve persevered and made a difference.
All of us owe it to ourselves to know where our feeling of limitation and anxiety is rooted and then pull up the roots and take a hard look.
If your ancient, inherited attitudes toward work are holding you back from being fulfilled and happy (which you can be even with work that’s challenging) then perhaps it’s time to toss those old roots onto the compost pile and start planting new seeds. And my hope is that they flower as a new way of being – and success – in your own +50 year work life.