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Career Messaging: Are You Missing Them?

I was volunteering in a job mentoring program and reviewing a participant’s job history, which included several short-term jobs. When I asked him why he left each position he replied, “It was the people.” After hearing him repeat this four consecutive times, I stopped being polite, and said, “You’re the people!” 

He looked startled and said, “What?” I explained that he had two options: he could either get a restraining order against these people who were stalking him from job to job, or he could look at himself—the common denominator. He became quiet, looked angry, and hesitantly said, “You may be right.”

After this, we discussed creating a stable job history, dealing with conflict, and the art of transitioning without the blame game. 

Sometimes, you have to look at “your people” (me, myself, and I) first, and with honesty, to get to the root cause of your state of discontent or transition. This is hard for most of us, because blaming others is much easier than examining the clues that our successes and failures tend to leave. Like any other investigation, ours should establish the facts from the clues, and evaluate them to come up with an objective conclusion. Depending on your objectivity, you will end up with the ugly truth, or a pretty lie. The ugly truth will provide insight behind your discontentment or constant state of transition, and a pretty lie will constantly keep you in a place where you are “swinking,” that is, not quite swimming, not quite sinking. “Swinking”is where you will find:

  • Short-term job hoppers—blaming “the people” for pushing them out.
  • Frequently downsized people—blaming unstable companies versus their unstable performances.
  • Fired people—blaming it on the company or boss who obviously had it in for them. 

When you’re out of sync, and living a pretty lie, you become a defiant victim with a narrative that only speaks to what is working against you. I often ask people who are terminated, “What did you learn?” Very few have learned anything about themselves. They talk about what they learned about the bad company, manager, coworkers, or industry.

But when we start examining the clues, we often find that months before their termination one of the following had occurred:

  • Their workload was significantly reduced.
  • Another person was hired with similar responsibilities.
  • They were reassigned to a junior department/responsibilities. 

In other words, they started becoming insignificant, and they didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t try to fix the problem, look for another job, or discern what was happening. They just kept showing up, while they were disappearing. 

Most of us see what we want to see, when we want to see it. The truth typically leads us to places we don’t want to go. Unfortunately, it’s not just a people thing, but a company thing too.  

Companies have their own strategies for avoiding the ugly truth. One I’ve commonly seen, is to reassign ineffective senior executives instead of terminating them. They would announce that Bob is leaving his current position to work on a special project. You may see Bob in the hallways for a few weeks, faking excitement about his special project, and then after a few months, you notice that Bob is gone. 

Even though most of us know the “special project” tale, we play along while betting on Bob’s disappearance. Will it be thirty or sixty days after the announcement? It’s one of those sad, why didn’t he see it coming, because we did events from the history of workplace cautionary tales. 

The bottom line: you can’t afford to be clueless in this dynamic world where companies are looking for contributors. Once you feel like you aren’t contributing, it would behoove you to confer with “your people” first, and your manager second, to determine if you are missing something or if you are becoming a missing person. Sometimes lessons knock softly, and sometimes they break down the door. But in either case, you should ask yourself: What are your results honestly telling you?