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Subtlety & Fear

What if every day you showed up to work, eager to do something really good? Something meaningful.

What if you came up with ideas on how to do things better? Not at first, but only after you felt confident that you understood the point of the work and all of the subtle forces surrounding it.

What if, upon hearing your suggestions, your boss rejected them without much consideration? What if he made you feel small, suggesting that you were distracted? Your boss directs your attention to the goal: “do it this way,” he says. The “goal” is to do it by a certain method. There is nothing subtle about the goal, or how to achieve it. Systems are never subtle.

Eventually you become demoralized. You wonder what the point of your work is. Why do you feel disloyal? Why doesn’t your boss appreciate you?

Well, stop being so selfish. Get a grip.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. He’s worked in the system a long time; he know how things are supposed to be done. It’s hard trying to get people to work within a system. Bosses don’t have time for subtlety and novel ideas. They have to teach lots of people the old system, the one that they learned. Organizations like the one you work in need authority, and they need people to follow along without a lot of backtalk. What do you really want anyway?

Do you want something real?

What if every day you felt a sense of satisfaction about your work? What if you could try a new approach at the very moment you realized it was better? What if your boss completely supported this? What if you were the boss? What if you worked for yourself?

You would not be free of authority. But you would be free of institutional, corporate authority. Does that scare you? Then what are you afraid of?

You’ll make mistakes, no doubt. But that’s not what scares you, is it?

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  • Laurie says:

    I find this post to be wonderful Ernie – inspiring for me and hopefully for your intended recipient too! As for the comments about family responsibility – I truly believe your responsibility to be happy and in control of your destiny can improve your family relationships and a great family bond is more important to your kids and wife than money in general. My spouse and I had a bad financial experience recently but he was so supportive and helpful on an emotional level during this time I really didn’t care that he wasn’t able to provide the usual financial security. Life is not about security but about experiencing and living.

  • Lou Giansante says:

    It’s funny. The issue of family and responsiblities was my issue until my wife had a stroke 8 years ago. As it turns out, although the stroke was serious and, for awhile, life threatening, in less than 72 hours, she had regained all of the deficit she showed on her left side and made a complete recovery. The stroke occured less than 30 days post partum after the birth of our third child and in my 12th year working for large firms, knowing I could do better on my own. Nobody had more emerging responsibilities than me and was faced with limited resources to address them. As soon as she was well, we sat and discussed my desire to develop my own firm and practice. It was scarey but not half as terrifying as what we had been through. Within 3 months I started my own practice and I haven’t looked back for 8 years. I am sure I am doing better from a financial perspective than if I had remained at the firm. Over the same 8 years, the 120 attorney firm has shrunk to 35, laying off partners and associates alike. It looks like the risky move was really the safer and more secure one, I just didn’t know it at the time.

    Lou Giansante

    Lou Giansante

  • Tad says:

    I think the conflict (whether for those with “the family responsibility thing” or for others) is Fear versus Faith. As Martin said, “Fear will never go away.” There will always be a source of fear. Whether it’s fear of unknown outcomes, fear of failing self or others, fear is a product of the lack of a certain result. Faith, on the other hand (and here I do not speak specifically of religious faith, but simply an inner confidence that uncertain processes can be dealt with or adapted to in order to arrive at a positive, if not desired, result), is the antidote to the fear. I, for instance, have “the family responsibility thing,” and yet, perhaps irresponsibly, left a very good, well-paying, defense firm position to open a solo appellate practice. Not purely on the basis of inner confidence; there was much research into the various factors of what I wanted to achieve with the practice, talking with others, running numbers, yada yada yada. So the answer then, to counter fear, perhaps is informed faith. Break the general fear into specific concerns, then obtain information to address each concern and determine if you have armored your inner confidence with the information necessary to face the possibility of uncertain result. Or, in short, Faith versus Fear.

    By the way, Ernie, I caught your panel discussions at the LSBA solo/small firm conference; I appreciate the very informative presentations. Good work.

  • bvisual says:

    I agree with Martin…”Fear will never go away, so the question isn’t what are you afraid of, but rather what fear(s) are you willing to live with?” Very well said.

    “when you can’t be there, bVisual.”

  • Ernie says:

    Well, maybe you’re right Charlie. You know me and my situation better than Ellie’s dad. But, you don’t know why I wrote the post. It wasn’t directed at people like me, or you or Ellie’s dad. I have in mind a certain person, whom I know and care about. That person is in fact capable of making the switch, and almost certainly will one day, perhaps soon.

    There are people who don’t have the “family responsibility” issue that has dominated the comments to this post, and who yet have major doubts about going solo. Why is that?

    When people have fears those fears aren’t always based on the things that our so called ‘common wisdom’ focuses on. That’s what I’m asking about. I leave it to others to provide the answers, if they have them. But, I don’t think that the ‘family responsibility’ thing is the answer for everyone, certainly not for the person I thought about when I wrote the post.

  • Charlie says:

    “Who said (or implied) anything about responsibility?” Tim did. You askedthe question, “what are you afraid of” and I believe you received aresponse to that. Although your blog implied several things, such as thatcorporations are impersonal machines unopen to change as are their officersand managers, you are correct in saying that it made no mention ofresponsibility.I think Tim and Ellie’s Dad did however point out one of the biggestobstacles of most people trying to wriggle free of that “corporateinstitutional authority” you’re railing against. In a round-about way itdoes directly answer your question: Are either afraid of getting free ofthis perceived institutional, corporate authority? No. The fear wouldapparently be leaving the security (and bi-weekly paycheck with benefits)of that steady old institution for the unknown — the possibility offailing to start from scratch and make a decent living when the people youlove the most are depending on you to take care of them, financially andotherwise. A much easier question to answer for someone who say isunmarried and financially secure regardless of the turns his (or her)business may take.

  • ellie's dad says:

    Perhaps I didn’t articulate my brief response that well, or perhaps I’m missing the larger point of your position.

    Of course, I’m afraid of failure, mistakes, etc. Who isn’t on some level or another? I’m just saying that at another point in my life, I could conceive of facing such fears. But, now the only thing that matters is not letting my wife and daughter down. If that means sacrificing some other part of “me” then so be it.

    Also, I did not necessarily mean to imply responsibility in the negative. Yes, there are some limitations that come with responsibility. However, I’m a better person due to the responsibilities I now have; and, I owe it to myself, and my loved ones, to be more responsible in my decision-making and other choices.

  • Martin says:

    Ernie, your post is spot on in my experience. The tension regarding how to do the work most efficiently and meet professional and ethical obligations (to the client and to one’s self) was precisely what led me to strike out on my own a little over a month ago. Fear will never go away, so the question isn’t what are you afraid of, but rather what fear(s) are you willing to live with?

  • Ernie says:

    Who said (or implied) anything about responsibility? Nothing I said (or implied, since you have chosen to imply a negative) has to do with forsaking responsibility. But I will say this: when fears come into play refuge can be taken in all kinds of sanctimonies and ‘socially accepted virtues.’ Clever arguments can always be constructed using red herrings.

    If you’re not afraid of anything then that’s fine. Say so. But to say that one’s greatest fears are the failure to meet responsibility is easy to believe, but not necessarily true.

  • ellie's dad says:

    Tim hit the nail on the head. Responsibility trumps everything else as far as I can tell.

  • Tim says:

    No. I’m much more afraid of letting down my family, who are financially dependent on me.

    But since I don’t know yet what else I want to do anyway, that fear is basically moot — for now.

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