Don't waste time raging against a workplace situation — change the game instead

By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal

If a reference to Rage Against the Machine, a popular ‘90s rock band known for its political lyrics, made by a 70-year-old guy makes you scratch your head or roll your eyes — then we are probably already off to a bad start this week.

If not, then hang in there; I promise this gets better.

Rage against the machine: I do like the sound of the phrase, and it really is self-explanatory.

As an obstacle, anything that interrupts the ability to engage freely with our work (especially when it involves something that seems to be within our control) can be irksome, and is usually upsetting and maybe even rage-worthy?

Rage against whatever or whoever, whether it is: a co-worker, a manager, a policy, “them” (you know who and what I mean, that which we grind our gears about), is unequivocally a waste of time, the one resource you have that is truly yours and is non-renewable.

Whenever I hear someone raging, ranting about their situation all I can ever think to ask is whether they understand the game they are playing.

Business is a high-contact pastime.

Even in high-contact sports, when it is a matter of business, there is more than one way to get yourself knocked for a loop.

Here’s an example of what I am referring to.

Back in January 2010, CBS Sports Wire reported early one morning that the football team the San Diego Chargers announced it had released long time star running back LaDainian Tomlinson after a nine-year career with the team.

The story read: “The yards didn’t pile up as easily as in previous seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson was slowing down because of injuries and age, becoming less and less the face of the franchise as his role was reduced in a pass-happy offense. On Monday, he was released by the San Diego Chargers, a franchise he helped revive with a brilliant 12-year run in which he became one of the NFL’s greatest running backs.”

If you are a sports fan you are familiar with this scenario: former star player released — after all they have done for the team, it’s not fair!

But there is another side to the story. Back during Super Bowl week that year LaDanian spoke with his agent Tom Condon and let him know that he thought it was time to move on.

This is a sign of someone who understands the game he is playing, he saw the handwriting on the wall and he chose to engage with the reality in which he found himself.

Did he like it? I can’t imagine that he did.

Could he change what was going to happen? Not very likely.

Rather than rage against the team or wait for a decision that was probably inevitable, LaDanian chose to initiate action on behalf of his future. He asked for his release.

So, am I saying you should always walk away from a fight? No. I am saying walk away from a whine! If the shoes don’t fit, stop wearing them!

There was a time too, early in my career, when I was a rising star.

Maybe my trajectory was a bit shallow, but I knew I was meant for better things than waiting in line for the next available management opening. Truth be told I had educated myself as a human resources professional to ensure that I would be able to make a good living (reasonable and aspirational but not inspirational), and while that was proving to be the case I was increasingly interested in things that I would later learn were part of the study of organizational development.

I thought, how could this Fortune 500 company not be doing more of what I was interested in doing?

Well they weren’t, and for the most part they would not begin to be for nearly another 10 years, as it turned out.

One day late in that year, I woke up and realized that there was nothing wrong, especially not with the company where I was working.

What had happened, through no one’s fault, was that I had discovered something that mattered more to me than simply making a living.

Most importantly, it dawned on me that I was the one who needed to act. Within a very short period of time, I had resigned and began plans to become my own employer in a company offering the services I wanted to provide.

Over the past 37 years there have been plenty of ups and downs, and I have been on the field for everyone of them. What a great game I created for myself!

Can you say that you love the game you are playing today?

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