Sunday, March 07, 2010

Myths And Legends Die Hard In America

"Myths and legends die hard in America.

We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of 'the rat race' is not yet final."

—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt, 1979

60, 70, even 80 hour weeks are common for managers in today's slash and burn economy.

The corporate value equation goes something like this: high unemployment = more hours at work = increased productivity = higher profits.

I get that part.

And I understand if a young manager wants to be promotable, if he wants to get ahead, he needs to be the hardest worker, the one to put in the extra effort, the superhuman hours, the one who will sublimate everything else in order to . . . in order to . . .

It is filling in that blank where the deal goes sideways.

What exactly does a young manager with a family believe he is accomplishing working six and seven days a week, into the late evenings, spending untold days on the road, and otherwise ignoring all other opportunities life has to offer?

Does he believe that there is a finish line in this race, all evidence to the contrary?

Does he believe the extra money is going to change the endgame?

Does he believe that one day more will become enough?

Does he believe that he will be different than those 20 years ahead of him who are still grinding away?

Can he not see the Maalox bottles strewn over the desks of his superiors?

Has he calculated the emotional toll of a failed marriage, children who won't recognize him on a wanted poster -- common costs of sublimating everything to the "cause?"

Has he ever spoken to retired execs who, in retrospect, are often bitter over the Faustian bargain they struck?

Who exactly are the "heroes" in whose footsteps he wants to follow?

I would like to know and I have asked.

The young manager often mutters something about "success," and when unable to define it in a way that does not render the entire English language meaningless, then assumes the noble pose, professing an undying desire to "take care of my family," which seems darkly comical even to him as he utters those words. His discomfort is palpable.

This is perhaps the great American workplace tragedy for it is viral, intractable, and for most, has proven irreversible.


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