Ressler’s Rules #11 “… he not busy being born is busy dying”
This particular rule comes from a Bob Dylan song: “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”) and has been with me most of my adult life.
DIGRESSION: The referenced song is (at least to me) one of the most perceptive, influential, and sardonic songs from a career of beautifully insightful renderings. I’ve often wondered if Bob Dylan carefully constructs each sentence and concept or whether the words flow through his veins and out the pen like the spring run-off from the streams of my youth, in the Cascade Mountains. Whatever the origin, this artful poetry helped me retain a peculiar sense of calm during the latter part of 1967 as I trained for 24 weeks at Ft. Dix New Jersey for a war in a country I had barely heard of for reasons that seemed at best obtuse and at worst disingenuous. The seemingly endless hours of marching and bayonet drills (lunge while screaming “kill” at the top of your lungs) were interwoven with the hilarious (“today we will learn what to do in the event of a nuclear attack-dig a hole and cover yourself with a poncho”). I maintained my sanity in what seemed carefully choreographed madness and thus I will always thank this song and Mr. Dylan. END OF DIGRESSION
I now live in a gated community which consists almost exclusively of people over 55 years old-affectionately referred to as the “Old Fart’s Plantation”. What is interesting is that nearly every person I’ve met here is using the freedom which comes with retirement, to broaden the canvas of their lives. People are certainly involved in “sport” to a greater extent than ever before (golf, tennis, fishing, bridge..etc) and also a fair number are learning to play musical instruments, attempting to write creatively and/or volunteering for a wide range of charities. Add travel, photography, local politics, and courses as diverse as computer literacy, cooking, and shag dancing to the interests being cultivated.
This array of new interests is quite different than my parents’ generation who seemed a bit perplexed by retirement and had little sense of what to do with the time on their hands. There is a sense among my generation of the need/desire to keep moving forward-to enrich our lives with new experiences not in the frantic sense of trying to fill-up time but rather as if we were painters learning to broaden the palette of colors available. Recently I read Keith Richard’s autobiography (“Life”-well worth the time) and several years ago I had also read Eric Clapton’s. Once you get past the “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” what is remarkable is the similarity of both men in their attempts to understand and incorporate a broad tapestry of musical influences not simply to appeal to audiences but rather to continue to grow, develop, transition and mature.
The same desire for continual growth should be the hallmark of your professional life. I have always felt this restlessness in my professional life which may be the reason I never held a position more than 3 years. The first six to eighteen months in a position seemed to offer the greatest opportunity to learn new skills which were then tested and refined. While I would continue to learn and improve after the second year, it was at a far slower pace. While more experience makes you more comfortable in a position, it can also slow your growth and ultimately lead to laziness.
When I reviewed resumes of applicants for openings I always wondered if an individual’s ten years of experience was simply two years of experience replicated four more times. That is the question you should ask yourself-“am I really growing and acquiring new skills and abilities or am I simply content to comfortably rely upon what I’ve acquired to date?”
Today’s workplace is changing at a far faster rate than I experienced and employees are far more likely to be judged “dead weight” if they have shown little ability to adapt and grow. To quote another Bob Dylan line: “You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing”. It should be painfully obvious that the American economy has been irrevocably changed over the past three years and the “good old days” of full employment are gone-gone forever. Unemployment and underemployment are the sad residue of changes most of us never saw coming and the inevitable consequence of a national overconfidence. For those of you still in the workforce, adaptability and a thirst for progression are the keys to success.
I have been asked on more than one occasion: “If I like my job, have no desire to be a manager or move, isn’t that O.K.?” Like most questions with absolute answers, my response is “maybe.” Movement is not necessarily growth and lack of movement isn’t always a death sentence. I’ve met countless individuals who switched jobs repeatedly simply to avoid being held accountable for their incompetency. I have also known a few people who did retain the same position and continued to gain new tools and competencies.
However it is, in my opinion, far more difficult to add to your treasure chest of experience and capabilities without stretching yourself by taking on significant new challenges. The workplace may not yet have become a Darwinian survival of the fittest, but it is a place where if you fail to move forward almost by definition you are slipping backward-“he not busy being born is busy dying.”
Rule #9 – It is Ok to be Stupid, It is Ok to be Arrogant, Just Don’t Be Both
Rule #8 – You Can’t Always Get What You Want But If You Try Real Hard You’ll Get
Rule #7 – Common Sense and Common Courtesy are Uncommon
Rule #5 – Coordinating a Subordinate’s Work Can Either Be Demeaning or Educational
Rule #4 – Little Transfer of Knowledge Occurs When the Boss Makes All the Decisions
Rule #3 – Never Ask a Subordinate to Do What You Wouldn’t Ask a Boss or Peer