Are You Melting Your Wings?

A lot of careers aren’t very intentional, they’re really accidental. Who do you know–yourself included–who has moved from position to position, better title, more money, different responsibilities, usually up, because someone else defined the move? Given this kind of “my career just happened” situation, is it any wonder that people who find themselves out of work in this economy think that they’re victims? If you never took responsibility for your moves, and just moved when something came along, it’s no wonder that you’re surprised when the move is “out.”

Way back in the 20th century, entrusting your economic livelihood to your employer was comfortable and safe. It was actually smart–the best way to get ahead was to align with your employer’s expectations, be loyal, put in your time, and trust that you were being tracked to something better.

An article from the Harvard Business blog, Businesses and the Icarus Paradox, ( provides an eye-opening analogy for business, but also for the career-fear in today’s employment market. Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who made wings of feathers and beeswax and so was able to fly. Excited with his success, Icarus ignored warnings about flying too close to the sun. When he did, of course, the beeswax melted and Icarus’ wings fell to earth–and so did he.

The ‘Icarus Paradox,’ then, is this: what made Icarus successful also led to his downfall. His success led to his overconfidence, his blindness about what might be dangerous to his ability to fly.

With respect to jobs and careers, the very thing that made for success at work–depending upon the organization to provide–is now blinding people to the dangers of holding onto this thinking.

This blindness is creating a workforce that sees themselves as victims when it is really their refusal to deal. (Note: whether it’s stubbornness or ignorance, either is a refusal since changes have been plentiful for a long time.) It’s this refusal to deal with the challenges of a changed economy that has landed us in and continues the current mess. Businesses are at fault, too, but it is a shared responsibility. It’s time for both to take the blinders off.

Victims, by definition, are those who suffer from a destructive or injurious action or those who are deceived or cheated. While every business that is downsizing may not have proclaimed its economic problems, it’s difficult to see employee cut-backs as destructive, injurious, deceptive or cheating. Dumb, maybe, but not intentionally harmful to the individuals involved. If anything, businesses implement cuts because that’s the way they have always reacted to economic hard-times: cut expenses by starting with the biggest expense–labor. That reaction, in the industrial economy, served business well and didn’t do much, if any, long-term harm. When the economy improved, the business just restarted a line, increased production and continued its growth via that Industrial business model.

For businesses and workers, flying this model melts wings.

I remember my Dad working in the winters for Willis Jeep in Toledo and being laid off during slow times. He didn’t proclaim himself a victim, but he did have 2 or 3 other things lined up for when the slow times came. He sold products, he sold services, and he farmed. When the harvest didn’t provide the income needed, he moved to Plan B and even to Plan C. He developed his best strategy for his work/career path in order to succeed in the economy.

So if your wings are melting, what are you doing about it?

If you’re in an organization:

*How are you taking responsibility for retooling your skills?
*How are you taking the lead in collaborating with others to attract new and returning customers for the business?
*How are you providing a higher level of customer service, both to your internal and external customers?
*What new projects are you leading and who are you mentoring?
*What else are you doing to keep away from the sun— to toss out the old ways that don’t work anymore?

And if you’re looking for your next career place:

*What new skills are you developing while you’re searching?
*What new ways are you using to market yourself?
*How are you tapping into the unpublished job market?
*What is your plan for taking responsibility for your work future–all 5 or 20 or 40 years of it?
*Who are you working with (coach, mentor) to move beyond your old ways of thinking? Without support, it’s easy to fly back into the sun when you land.

Your turn!

If any of this resonates with you, please leave a comment. Let us know how you’re staying away from the Icarus trap. Tell us what specific actions you are taking to keep your career wings strong. Your comment could be the wind for someone else’s wings!

6 Responses

  1. Great questions Janine. My favorite question: When others think of you, they think of…? It gets to what you’re known for which leads to how you will get there. Please keep up the great advice here.

  2. A great question, Jim, especially since it can get to who you are authentically…and that’s critical. Too often, we hide behind job titles and forget that it’s our own stuff (talents, values, capabilities) that provides workplace value.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Great blog posting! so, kudos. Also, in reading the comments…it IS a great question and I collect great questions, so thanks Jim for adding one more. Sorry I missed your talk at OSU. Heard it was wonderful and started reading your book. Deeply engaging.

    so, thanks to both of you for doing all that you do to change the energy in how we lead our lives.

    Join me in creating a fabulous week!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Evelyn…I appreciate just knowing that you’re reading, and that Jim’s post added another piece of value for you. OSUPB was great!

  5. thank you so much!

    what did you take from OSUPB that really resonated for you?

    again, thanks for all the insight you lend in leadership, career development, and leading fabulous lives. 🙂

  6. Evelyn: A lot of Jim’s work in Personal Brilliance resonates because it’s about authenticity and finding your voice and that’s what I help people do–trust themselves. Comments about awareness and being present were particularly resonant, as well as those about our inner critic. Mine, like many, is loud and proud, but an ongoing awareness of it and its reality (from whence it comes) is what I use to re-shape it…an ongoing process, but one that is easier as I go!

    Thanks, too, for your kind words!

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