July 10, 2004
News & Opinion: BOOK REVIEW: Fire Your Boss
I'm generally not a big fan of ranting, and I try to keep the focus of what I have to share as positive as possible. With that in mind, there's only one word I can use to describe my reaction to Stephen Pollan's Fire Your Boss. Blech! [Before I go any further, I should tell you that my reaction to this book is biased, as my professional focus is helping people create careers that light their fire.] This paragraph sums up Pollan's wrong-headed, misguided, and disconnected philosophy: ...Your focus on the job should be to increase and solidify your stream of income. Ego boosts, like a corner office, and nonfinancial rewards, like a supportive environment, are meaningless. The job of your dreams is the one that pays the most money. Today you need to accept that when it comes to a job, it's the money that counts. "The job of your dreams is the one that pays the most money." I just about choked when I read that. Is money a factor in your career? Of course. It's also a recipe for unhappiness when it becomes the sole focus. I've seen far too many people who are making gobs of money and miserable because they aren't being true to themselves. Pollan's basic approach is: 1. Make your choices to make the most money you can. 2. Don't work so much (so you have time for non-work activities) - I have to agree with him on this point. 3. Get your "fulfillment" in activities outside of work. Pollan's sole career decision factor is money. He suggests that you "kill your career, which means, "...stop living to work and instead start working to live. Rather than looking at work as an end in itself, view it as a means to an end: a way to generate the money you need to have a happy life." As he puts it, "...killing your career almost guarantees a larger income, since from now on, whenever you face a choice or decision, you'll always opt for the path that provides more money." But at what cost? The book is based on a number of flawed premises: * Work is only designed for making money, and therefore an inherently poor vehicle for finding fulfillment. * Making money and doing something you love are mutually exclusive. * Your chances for doing something you really love are minimal, so don't bother trying. * The fulfillment you get in your non-work activity compensates for the hours you spend doing work you don't enjoy. * Pursuing your passion automatically means you work too much. Now and then I ran across paragraphs that made me flinch, such as when Pollan asks, "Is it possible to have it all? To have a job you love that is both rewarding and lucrative, as well as a satisfying personal life? I will admit it is possible. But, truth be told, it's not probable. It's a one-in-a-million chance. A real long shot." Wrong! I've seen too many people who are both absolutely in love with their work and able to make a comfortable financial living. This comment left me shaking my head. Is making it happen more challenging? Sometimes. Does it take a more creative approach than the typical treadmill option? It can. But a one-in-a-million shot? Not even close. The idea that you can make up for emptiness during your work hours by your non-work activities is flawed as well. Any time you spend half your waking hours doing something you don't really want to be doing, it leaves a gaping hole. So looking at it figuratively, the fulfillment you get from your non-work activity just goes to fill in that hole. The net effect, at best, is level ground. Of course, it doesn't really even work that way. What often ends up happening is a feeling of imbalance. "My non-work life is great, but I'm just not happy at work." Even if you limit yourself to 40 hour work-weeks, that is too much time to spend doing something you'd rather not do. In a nutshell, Pollan's message is, "Don't bother trying to find fulfillment in your work. You won't find it. Focus on the money, because that's easier to find. Look for fulfillment elsewhere." The unfortunate thing about that advice is that it encourages us to segment ourselves, spending half our waking hours doing something that doesn't match who we are. And it doesn't take into account the energy drain that causes - which results in that much less energy available to put into pursuing fulfillment elsewhere. Another of Pollan's premises that mystified me was his belief that if you love your job you necessarily work too much and won't have time for fulfillment elsewhere. Pollan states, "The problem is that in your pursuit of fulfillment through work, you've stolen time from the areas of your life that are far more likely to provide fulfillment: personal relationships, community, hobbies, and religion." Seems to me that has more to do with healthy balance and boundaries than whether or not you love your job. The whole flavor of Fire Your Boss left a bad taste in my mouth. Throughout the book, Pollan's philosophy seems to be, "You've got to look out for #1, because The Man's going to screw you in the end." The picture he paints of the workplace borders on hyperbole. Pollan's plan consists of seven main elements. There are actually some good ideas to be had, if you can separate them from the "work solely for the money" focus. They are: 1. Fire your boss...and hire yourself: Stop letting your boss, or anyone else, dictate what happens in your career. 2. Kill your career...and get a job: Stop trying to get fulfillment out of work and use your job to make money so you can enjoy life elsewhere. 3. There's no I in job: Stop focusing on your own success and focus on your boss' success instead. 4. Stop job hunting and go job fishing instead: Always be looking for work, regardless of whether you have a job or not. 5. No one hires a stranger: Build relationships for the long-term, don't just network when you need to. 6. It's the money that counts: The job of your dreams is the one that pays the most money. 7. Hello I must be going: You will inevitably be leaving your job, so start planning for your departure the day you start. I wholeheartedly agree with his idea that your primary allegiance has to be to yourself, as the era of corporate loyalty is gone. Taking control of your career, as Pollan advocates, is nothing but positive. I also agree with both the notion that our non-work time is rich in potential to add fulfillment and joy to our lives, and the idea that it would be beneficial to do a better job of balancing the time we spend in our work and non-work lives. And he's spot on with his assessment that we need to focus on building a network for the long-term, not just when we need it. What I don't agree with is Pollan's notion that money is the only thing that matters in your work, that loving your work and making money are necessarily mutually exclusive, and that 40 hours a week of wearing a mask and being someone you're not is a desirable option, regardless of how fulfilling your non-work life is. His recommendation to forget about fulfillment and focus on the money is a giant leap backwards. Usually when I'm done with a book I won't be adding to my library I'll set it aside to take to Goodwill so someone else can read it. With Fire Your Boss though, I don't want to be responsible for some unsuspecting soul actually taking its message to heart. So it looks like this one is headed for the recycling bin.