Ressler’s Rules #11 “… he not busy being born is busy dying”

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.”

Past Blogs
Rule #10: If you don’t systematically plan, life is a series of random events

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

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Pat Fiorenza

John, this is great information – I’ll receive my MPA in July and will be starting up my career, so thanks for sharing your experiences and insights. I also happen to be a huge Dylan fan. Have you read Bob Dylan in America? I recommend it if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Thanks again!

Scott Burns

Thanks so much for the awesome insight!

I agree that “It’s Alright Ma” is an amazing song– one of the best from the best songwriter in history.

I have reflected on that same line many times throughout my life, and it continues to resonate with me in everything I do. I won’t judge people who want the world and their contributions to it to remain stable, but I certainly prefer working with (and investing personal time with) people who see change and self-improvement as the best way to spend our limited time on the earth.

I will remember this quote in every interview I do from this point forward: “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.”

Andrew Krzmarzick

This line also provides a chilling – and inspiring – moment in the movie “Shawshank Redemption” (my favorite movie of all time). For folks not familiar with it, there’s a story line where one of the inmates who had spent his life in prison was released to the community late in his life. He tries to make an honest go of it, serving as a grocery store bagger – but finds that his life in prison was easier and, in some ways, more meaningful. I won’t tell you what happens next just in case you haven’t seen it, but here’s the scene that sets it all up: