Does the world owe you a living?

Last week a 27-year old graduate of Monroe College in New York sued the college because in the three months following graduation she had not found a job. Her suit alleges that for $70,000 in tuition, the school’s responsibility is to find her a position. The young woman (whose name I refuse to mention, thus possibly extending her 15 minutes of fame) is angry about her position, especially since her student loans will be coming due. She is in no position to pay on them, and so her family will have to take on the additional burden. (Find the story:

Her position on the college’s responsibility: “They have not tried hard enough to help me.” The college’s position: “[we pride ourselves] on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students.”

Sounds to me like a gross miscommunication around the concept of personal responsibility–and by everyone who has been part of this 27-year old’s long, long adolescence!

Expecting a handout?

expecting a handout?

It apparently takes a “crash and burn” event to separate many people from their “entitled” view of the world. Guess the folks at Enron were just doing what they were told, and didn’t have any responsibility in their loss of retirement dollars. Guess the people who hate their jobs don’t have a choice but to stay…have to pay the bills somehow, right? Guess those who are “victims” of this current recession are just that, with no responsibility for their ill-prepared out-of-work status. Guess the “older workers” who aren’t valued in the current workplace are just disrespected for all their Industrial Age experience. And, apparently, the younger workers coming out of college are just not responsible for finding their own jobs–they are entitled to one as an result of the money they spent on the degree they received.

How does this thinking happen?

What happened to the idea of earning what you get? Of taking responsibility to use your talents, abilities and resources (a college degree falls into this last category) to get a job or move in a new career direction? Of being completely responsible for the outcomes in your life?

The young graduate who is suing her college apparently doesn’t know about the ‘personal responsibility’ part of life. [And, whose fault is this? When does it become hers?] And while many readers may see this story and say, “How ridiculous…I would never do that!”, their comments on their current work or economic status would belie this.

Are individuals responsible for having a job or not? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to see that your industry or organization must dance to a different tune, that of a global economy or tightening market? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to make sure that you can dance to that tune…even when it entails taking dancing lessons? And you need to pay for them yourself?

Swimming in your best direction

Swimming in your best direction

I believe individuals do have this responsibility, but when was the last time you heard someone say…I should have been ready for this downturn by sharpening my skills? I should have been ready by continuing to build and take care of my network? I should have been ready by learning which industries are growing and which are dying? Or even, I should have seen this coming?

It’s much more likely that you’ve heard someone say: “they” just called me in, and let me go; or “they” don’t appreciate the last 20 years I gave them; or “they” didn’t give me any training to upgrade my skills; or even “they” just don’t care about the little guy!

Here’s what responsibility looks like.

A few weeks ago, when taking a shuttle from my hotel to the Phoenix airport, the driver asked what I spoke about (I was heading home from the National Speakers Association convention). When I replied “workforce change and development,” he began telling me about his transition 8 years ago from manufacturing employee to franchise owner. Employed by Motorola, he was downsized and in his own words said that he “should have seen it coming.”

John Maelstrom, that Super Shuttle owner, decided to deal with the set-back and find work that works for him. He went into business for himself and now has two employees. He is a great example of resilience in the face of change, of someone with a sense of responsibility that defines his character.

Why not take just a few minutes right now and test your own sense of entitlement: Does your employer owe you your job?

If yes, what kind of guarantee do you have? How sure are you?

If not, what are you doing to be sure that you’re ready and responsible for your own livelihood? When you get to this answer, and don’t know where to start–drop me an email or give me a call. I can help you learn to trust yourself and move toward a true security, one you make yourself.

PS: when you’re in Phoenix and need a ride, call Super Shuttle, 602.244-9000 and ask for John by name.

6 Responses

  1. Fantastic post. I grew up on EST. Personal responsibility was ingrained in me since elementary school age. So it never fails to amaze me the level of self-entitlement we’ve nurtured in this society.

    I see this in the business world as well. Business owners who think the world owes them a living simply because they exist, who complain about all their misfortunes and why it’s everything and everyone else’s fault they are not successful. Yet they will not lift a finger to do the hard work of studying and learning what they need to in order to be successful and do the marketing and networking necessary to facilitate that.

    And consumers… we live in a Walmart-minded society anymore. They want everything for free or practically free and in the same breath bitch and moan about the poor state of customer service anymore. Businesses can’t keep cutting corners to give them “free” and still be expected to provide great customer service. Good people and good training costs money. People want great service and great products, they need to allow companies to operate to values of quality, not free. And companies need to stop offshoring these values to third-world countries. (Of course, greed does not figure into this equasion at the moment–that’s a rant for another time, LOL)

    I do want to point out, as someone who works with attorneys and sees blatant cases, that age discrimination is very real. I’ve seen cases where new younger management will come in and methodically and intentionally get rid of every worker over 40. This kind of stuff happens every day to older workers through no fault or victim mentality of their own.

  2. Hi, Danielle: thanks for your comments and taking the time to contribute to this discussion! Your perspectives on business owners and consumers are thoughtful and realistic.

    I particularly agree that “people” (all of us at one time or another I would expect) do expect quality services, products and support for little or nothing and are not at all realistic with respect to what it actually costs to meet these expectations. We somehow forget that the worker in us who expects the top wage and benefits for the top quality work we do is the same worker who doesn’t want to pay for the quality we demand…what an incongruous place we occupy!

    Unlike the example you’ve noted, I know that age discrimination is rife but often subtle. Technically, someone who is terminated for age may be a victim of that situation, but no more a “victim” than someone who is terminated in an “at will” state…for no cause. Isn’t it my responsibility as an employee to know when I am employed “at will,” v. when I have an employment contract that is a legally binding document? In the same way, I’m suggesting that “being” a victim and acting as a victim are different.

    I can acknowledge that I’m a victim and swim lap after lap in the pity pool, day after day, month after month. Or, I can acknowledge that I’m a victim of [insert cause here: discrimination, the economy, a system where I’m employed at will, etc.] and recognize that I’m still responsible for climbing out of the pool and working to get in a better place. I think it’s more likely that I’ll stay in the pool when I feel entitled to my position, and more likely that I’ll take responsibility for moving forward when I am prepared for the uncertainty of today’s workplace.


  3. Excellent blog as usual. Keep up the message of personal responsibility. At a societal level, we need to change the conversation from what we deserve (entitlements) to our personal responsiblities. We call this “personal sustainability.”

    There are four dimensions of personal sustainbility — health, relationship, career and financial. Janine has been covering the career sustainability dimension with the whole concept that each of us “own” our careers — even the title of the blog. As owners, it is our responsibility to optimize its value. It is not the responsibility of government, employers, education system, etc.

  4. Mike: Thanks for noting the 4 dimensions of personal sustainability…we too often consider one dimension to the exclusion of the others. I find it interesting to note, too, the way entitlement has crept into the other dimensions, with blame and finger pointing in all of them.

    We blame restaurants for coffee that burns us and food that makes us fat; the other person in a less-than-perfect relationship whether it be a personal or a business one; and the financial advisor for market swings and changes in the economy. As a society, personal responsibility has gone the way of common sense…missing!

  5. Excellent post – as usual Janine!

    I do fully support your position on this young lady. She initially did all the right things – chose to get a higher education, took the classes, presumably did the work and got the grades, and ultimately the diploma – that was her success. Getting a job – even with career support from the college – is her personal responsibility. There are so many issues that impact getting that job – do her qualifications match the job she’s trying to get, what are the economic conditions there, how is she presenting herself to prospective employers? I personally believe she’s now shot herself in the foot as she goes out on further interviews. If I were a hiring manager and knew of this situation, I wouldn’t hire her. She’s going to sue the school for not getting a job – what would she possibly sue me (my company) for in the future? Her short term solution is going to cause a long term problem for which she may feel entitled to sue someone else for discrimination.

    I find it interesting how the issue of entitlement has been hijacked and redefined in politics and the media to suggest it’s all ‘those people’ (poor, uneducated, etc.) who don’t/won’t do anything for themselves who feel entitled when, in fact, it’s more often corporations, politicians and those who do have the means who are truly feeling entitled. Whether it’s obscene bonuses for the same Wall Street executives who went on a crack-like binge with our savings and darned near collapsed the market or health insurance and big pharma who are spending $1.4M per day lobbying against any type of health care reform or the food industry who is pumping more and more food full of high fructose corn syrup which is highly addictive, turns off receptors in your brain that tell your body it’s full and vastly increase ones chances of becoming diabetic – I can see why some people feel like victims even though I don’t support the victim mentality.

    I’m a bit outraged to find out that my doctor may have been practicing ‘defensive medicine’ on me – that a lot of the tests and procedures I’ve been through over the past few years that caused more than a bit of anxiety and discomfort may not have been necessary – and he and I are going to have a chat about that.

    I didn’t get interested in politics until 2003 and it was 2004 before I actually honestly found out that politicians are allowed to stand there before television cameras giving speeches that contain complete falsehoods and it’s our responsibility to sort it out afterward. Call me naïve but that was an eye opener for me and made me think about all the people in this country who weren’t devoting as much time to politics as I was and who took what these politicians were saying as fact.

    All of this is to say that there’s a lot that goes into personal responsibility these days. It has become a lot more complicated to know everything you need to know to make a fully informed decision for yourself and your family. If the four dimensions of personal sustainability – and therefore to my mind personal responsibility – are health, relationship, career and financial then ownership of these issues is more than a full time job. One would like to believe that big name, well respected companies, professionals and elected politicians aren’t selling us products, services and policies for a short term gain that may well ultimately harm us. If you can’t trust someone then you can’t have a real relationship with them and if you can’t have an honest relationship then it’s unlikely the right thing – the best work, products, policies, services – will ever be accomplished.

    Bringing this back to the career ownership aspect – yes, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to know the job market and to pay attention to what’s going on inside the company for which they work and to keep themselves in the most marketable position. At the same time I believe that it’s difficult to stay engaged and enthusiastic in your work when you see your company behaving badly. Yes, this means it’s time to become more proactive in looking outside because ‘the writing’s on the wall’ but it certainly takes its toll on morale and productivity while the ‘writing on the wall’ is becoming clearer.

  6. Timely and well-stated comments, Marie–I appreciate your views especially as they relate to the Netflix “manifesto” that the Emerging Leadership Circle noted today: Another great read!

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