Today's job market is a cold and indifferent place. It feels as if it is operated by uncaring organizations that treat job seekers as second class citizens. The situation is frustrating and disrespectful and calls out for change. But, here's the rub: change doesn't happen because it should; it happens because it's forced to.
No one likes confrontation, but sometimes going toe-to-toe with an adversary is the only way to get things done. That's the central thesis of a book I've written about the American world of work in the second decade of the 21st Century. It's not your typical career or job search primer, but instead, is a novel called A Multitude of Hope.
The book traces the experiences of three out-of-work professionals as they struggle to find a way through today's dehumanizing job market. Along the way, they meet a secret online group of radical career activists practicing "economic disobedience" against the all-for-me-and-none-for-you class of corporate America.
The group's philosophy is both a throwback to the traditional American value of self-reliance and a battle cry for the power of individual initiative in modern culture. Economic disobedience asks each working man and women to see themselves differently in the workplace and to leverage that new self-image to extend the rights they have as citizens into the experience they have as employees.
Now, I know some will say that's naive. Work is a four-letter word, so the best we can hope for is to minimize its unpleasantness. When we're in transition, therefore, we take the lesser of two evils or, equally as bad, the only evil we're offered. We let expediency - the quest to find a job as quickly as possible - trump our human right to fulfillment.
Economic disobedience offers a different way. It empowers us to stand up for ourselves. It provides a credo and set of practices that will force employers to treat us with the dignity and respect we deserve. Economic disobedience is a declaration of independence for working men and women … but only if we are willing to do the hard work involved.
The Three Challenges
Economic disobedience involves three personal challenges. Each and all of them must be accomplished to reap the benefits of workplace independence and job search success.
Challenge #1: We must pull ourselves out of the boxes employers put us in. We have to re-imagine who we are in the workplace. We must no longer accept the label of "worker" or "employee" or "human resource." We have to see ourselves, instead, as a "person of talent."
Talent is not something reserved for the winner of some made-for-TV dance contest or college football championship. It is the capacity for excellence. And that access to superior performance is an attribute of our species. Like our opposable thumb, talent is a defining characteristic of being human. So if we're in transition, we have to bring our talent to work in a volunteer or self-created position so we can strut our stuff in a way recruiters and hiring managers will notice.
Challenge #2: We must refuse to fit into employer's "normal distribution" of talent. They believe only a few of us are capable of doing great work and that the best the rest of us can accomplish is mediocrity. We have to show them they're wrong by living up to our decision to be a person of talent.
Talent can only be expressed and experienced, however, if it is taught the skills and knowledge for a compatible career field. As a person of talent, therefore, we must see ourselves as a work in progress. We have to be perpetual students who are forever upgrading our ability to excel on-the-job. So if we're in transition, we have to be enrolled in an academic course or training program even as we search for a new employment opportunity.
Challenge #3: We must deny our talent to those who don't deserve it. We must no longer lend our talent to abusive employers who treat working men and women as disposable widgets with DNA, costs to be offloaded the minute the economy gets tight (and threatens the bonuses of executives).
Employers believe they are engaged in a War for Talent. That shortage of talent gives a huge competitive advantage to those of us who see ourselves as a person of talent and act that way. So if we're in transition, we must cherry pick the best employers - the ones that will respect and support our capacity for excellence. That not only gives us employment security, it enlists us in a new American experience - the one I call a multitude of hope.