Unlike All Those Passive People, I Am Waiting to Be Handed My Big Break

This is an amazing and self-refuting cry for help by Kate MacKay (via Maggies Farm)

By and large, my friends and my friends’ friends are all intelligent, educated, gregarious, and creative. They’re insightful and thoughtful. They’re critical and ambitious. So why do so many employers put them in positions that don’t take full advantage of what they’ve got to offer?...

But this is really bad talent management on the part of our employers. If you have ambitious, smart young people who actually want to do more work and use their talents to the maximum – so that they can grow as people and employees – then you’re an idiot as an employer to not take advantage of this....

The places that we work for are chock-a-block with people who are contented in their positions; they’re sitting low in their saddles, riding out the last miles toward the sunset of retirement. They’re not interested in changing horses any more, the way we are, and so those saddles that we want to have remain full, often by people who have lost more than just their ambitions for new jobs. They’ve lost the drive to get things done quickly, they’ve lost creativity, and they’ve especially lost the outsider’s perspective on the job they do and the company they work for. They’re entrenched in the corporate culture of the place, and nothing kills innovation or ambition faster than people dedicated to the status quo....

This is where I am, and many of my friends are in this position too, just hoping and waiting for either the next better job outside, or some radical shift inside. I’ve thought seriously about changing my LinkedIn profile blurb to something like, “My career goal is to gain a position that energizes, excites, challenges, and values me, so that I can continue to develop my skills and talents, and grow as a person.” I wonder if that would catch anyone’s eye?...

OK, stay with me, I am saving the good part for last, but it is important to get this background.  This person is seriously confused.  Companies do not exist to give one jobs that match one's skills.  In fact, they do not exist to provide jobs at all.  They exist to serve customers and thereby generate surpluses for the owners.  They hire people to do specific jobs that are part of a process to serve these customers and owners.

I am sympathetic to the notion that there is lost value in my employees, that they can do things that might be useful to me that I do not tap.  But I have 500 employees.  I have time to customize like maybe two of those jobs to the talents of individuals, and these are high level jobs where the benefit of that time commitment on my part is worth it.  For the rest of the employees, I have to be satisfied I am missing some value, because at best I don't have the time or resources to customize jobs to every employee's unique snowflakeness.  And at worst, such customization would mess up our customer service process.  At some level, I don't want every front line employee inventing his or her own imagined customer contact or cash management process.

But I promised you the best is yet to come. and here it is:

All of them wonder when their break is going to come, when the thing they’re doing will finally spill over from ‘just making it work’ to ‘making it.’ And I wonder that too, because this risk-taking group of determined individuals should be rewarded by the universe, I think, for their innovation and dedication. The other group, sitting undervalued at their desks, should be likewise rewarded for their abilities and ambitions.

My overall sense is that we’re all in the same place, sitting together in a kind of employment purgatory, waiting for something to happen. We keep working – we’re not sitting idle. We apply for jobs, we network, push for promotions or projects, advertise ourselves, and keep our eyes on the horizon. We are striving, ever striving, for the thing that we want that we know we can do. Economists be damned, we’re all just waiting for our big break, and we won’t be satisfied with a comfy saddle riding toward the sunset.

Did you get that?  This risk-taking and proactive group is determined to sit on their ass and wait for someone in the universe to appreciate them, for some organization to create a perfect job that gives each employee snowflake his or her perfect work experience.

Jeez, I have had a series of sucky jobs over time.  So as advice to those that think a proactive job search encompasses seriously considering a new Linked-in profile blurb, I did two things:

  • I changed jobs, and eventually went to work for myself.
  • I stopped defining my total-life fulfillment by what I do for a paycheck, and took on other tasks outside of work (blogging, writing, building) that brought me satisfaction but for which people have been as-yet unwilling to pay me.


  1. LarryGross:

    any view of having one employee show another one how to do the job and essentially create a competitor to their own position?

  2. bigmaq1980:

    A few things:

    Her article is rather whiny, and comes across as though she feels "entitled" and is a "victim".

    She feels "underpaid", but that is what's great about the open market...we can change employment, or create our own employment.

    One's pay reflects the "market price" for their labor...it is one's own fault if they have better opportunities to earn more but don't take them, and instead "wait" for them. The reality is that as an employee or as an entrepreneur, the payback from "risks" is not guaranteed, nor instantaneous. Nor is the path a straight line.

    Swimsuit designer, wine blog, German literature translator, contract massage teacher, executive assistant, waitressing, are all either extremely competitive, low demand niches, or really "second" jobs...strategically difficult places to be expecting to make a ton of money in a short period of time.

    On "getting by from month to month"...I doubt they are truly poor, as this phrase implies. Still, she (and they) more than likely live in or near Toronto or Vancouver, two of the most expensive cities in North America. California emulates the "innovation" in these cities regarding real estate related regulation/hurdles (check out Toronto's "green belt"). Pay scale is lower than in the U.S., and (last I checked) net taxes through all brackets are higher (for now). Like the U.S., strongest employment is in the resource based economies, and not in these liberal bastions.

  3. Not Sure:

    My mother had an answer for those folks: "The world doesn't owe you a living."
    Of course, she only had a high school education (no liberal arts college degree for her), so she'd probably have been ignored by all those "intelligent, educated, gregarious, and creative" people.

  4. john mcginnis:

    OP, Your two bullet points are painfully accurate.
    The person painted in the article misses the point about what risk is. If you have a `job` that is not risk. I would also ask this individual -- "Where are your stripes?". To move up, were you there before everyone else? Still there after everyone else left? If ya punched out at 5pm well your career path is clearly defined as `in the saddle`.
    If she and her friends are that risk taking then strike out on your own. Its the only way one truly gets paid what they are worth.

  5. obloodyhell:

    Entitlement. It's for everyone!

  6. Daublin:

    I think of employment in a corporation as having just the tradeoffs described in the article. It's lower stress, but it also means your opportunities tend to be chunky, ill-fitting, and occasional.

    That is, corporations have a variety of established positions with very specific responsibilities and skill requirements. You can apply for one of them, and if you get it, you can usually coast for as long as the company exists. If you get excited, you can apply for a transfer within the company to a better position, at low risk. If you don't get it, or if you don't bother, no big deal. You're already good.

    It's a low-stress way of life, but it's not terrific for advancement.

  7. a_random_guy:

    Typical youthful naivety, lots of people feel this way in their 20s: "I'm so special, I'm so talented, the whole world ought to see it!" Eventually you realize that you don't know everything: in fact, you don't even know enough to recognize how much you still have to learn. Here is the key insight: you are *not* special, except to yourself and your closest family and friends. There are millions of people just as "intelligent, educated, gregarious, and creative" as you are. The question is what you *do* with your talents.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    Their ambition goes far beyond your mother's wisdom. They don't think the world owes them a living, they think the UNIVERSE owes them a living.

  9. August Hurtel:

    She's seeing a problem, but she can't explain the problem correctly because her education prevents her from pointing out government interference with division of labor. As an employer, you can't I.Q. test people, and if there is any other reliable indicator of ability, you can't test for that either. She can't point to natural differences between people's ability because she's been taught to be egalitarian, so she points to an emotional 'drive' and the legally untestable intelligence. The reality is many of the ambitious have no capability, and probably no small number of these people she looks down on display none of the behaviors she likes precisely because they are a little farther along in discovering the nature of reality. I'm thinking the more intelligent hamster might mix things up a little, and spend a little less time on the wheel.

  10. irandom:

    Reminds me of the NPR morons complaining that employee salaries as a percentage of expenses, are getting smaller. That is they are not hiring enough people as they used to and that is why all those art history majors are suffering.

  11. marque2:

    I agree they should be more proactive about their own situation, however I do find it frustrating how people get promoted at companies just because the company feels they need to meet some quota to get certain groups to the top.

    Companies that are really overt about this have considerable moral problems.

  12. marfdrat:

    In this economy, I'd say "sitting in an employment purgatory" is a helluva lot better than sitting in an unemployment purgatory. Stop whining and find a way to add recognizable value for your company. Like one of the other commenters said, the company doesn't "owe" you anything; they trade you a paycheck and (probably) benefits to perform the duties you signed on for. You can always go find that special someone who recognizes your insightfulness, and gregariousness, and whatall, and is willing to trade a paycheck for that. Good luck.

  13. SamWah:

    Unfortunately for them, the Universe has much bigger concerns, and theirs are far below the visibility level.

  14. SamWah:

    Perhaps if she could find a way to add value to her job and her employer...
    Nah, not happening.

  15. Don:

    I know what she said, but here's what I heard:

    "I want my damned Participation Trophy!"