Over a catch-up dinner last week, a friend confided something I did not expect to come out of his mouth. An executive with a big firm he said, “I’m starting to feel like a commodity.”
Are we all becoming a commodity? Are we so easily replaceable? Is this what the chaos, uncertainty, unpredictability and complexity is causing us to feel? That we’re no different from anyone else. Is this the root cause of stress and anxiety at work?
I went to get my haircut the next day and thought of George. Now into his early 60’s, George started cutting hair in New York City about 30 years ago. I started going regularly to George about 10 years ago and haven’t been to anyone else.
George is a good example of someone I would refer to as “Purposeful”. He is really good at what he does and takes his work with a certain pride and integrity…like people used to. He’s always on schedule, takes great care of brushing my face when that annoying hair falls onto my nose and he’s very particular about getting just the right look for me. He’s consistent. Actually, he’s more than that….he is really good at what he does…a man with purpose.
Many jobs could be considered a commodity – from the person who cuts hair to the teacher who educates our kids to the guy who does our accounting to the doctor who checks our eyes or the person who makes our sandwich. From Main Street to Wall Street, many jobs could be considered a commodity. But to me, it is NOT if the person occupying the job is filled with deep purpose.
I get my hair cut by George because I believe he works hard to give me great value. He’s an artisan, a Blacksmith – someone who is so good at what they do even if what they do can easily be replicated. Their job may be replaceable but they are not. I only go to him because he does his job with such perfection, sincerity and care. He’s not my barber – he’s George!
If George can put his heart and soul into doing what some would consider menial, then why can’t the rest of us? Why can’t we apply the same principle to differentiate ourselves in times of uncertainty and chaos?
Sure, some people might think, “Why should I work so hard when I could be the next one on the chopping block?” Anyone can get laid off instantly as I talked about Jason in a previous post. But if that’s the attitude we embrace, then we could be choosing our uncertain fate by default. In some ways uncertainty has paralyzed us into complacency.
I believe we should reject the tendency to be in ‘default mode’ in these uncertain, unpredictable and chaos filled times and instead make a choice to throw ourselves deep into our work.
In order to embrace the chaos and uncertainty to set ourselves apart from the commodity herd, I believe we need to Put Purpose to Work. We need to become really, really good at what we do. Develop creative ideas in our job. Discover new ways to do things. Come up with fresh ways to thrive in this chaotic environment. Hustle! To be someone of substance who our colleagues and customers trust. So that people look at us and say, “You gotta call him if you want something done!” “She’s is really good at what she does. You have to give that assignment to her. She’ll nail it.” or “She may be out there with some of her ideas but honestly, I don’t see anyone else coming up with new ideas around here.”
I believe that we need to re-discover the “George like trait” present in all of us. That ability to embrace the chaos by focusing on the job at hand and putting purpose to work each and everyday. Maybe our role is a commodity but WE don’t have to be.
Putting purpose to work will move thoughts away from the fear, anxiety and uncertainty to a mind so filled with clear and exact purpose that we lose our self in the work. And when we emerge, we become the expert, the one with innovative ideas and an enthusiasm that sets us apart from everyone else – turning anxiety at work into a reputation among colleagues, customers and friends of being like George – a person of purpose.