Given how the American Dream has been reinterpreted over the past few decades, I sure hope so.

As we prepare to honor those who have died in service to our country, I’ve been reflecting on the ideals they defended–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness chief among them. There seems to be little disagreement, even among citizens holding the most extreme viewpoints, that these ideals are worth fighting for. When the American Dream idea enters the picture though, things get a little muddy.

The concept of the American Dream is relatively new–it first appeared during the Depression in the book The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams. The author was trying to understand what makes us unique as a country and noted that we shared an “American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.” The original concept was inclusive, not exclusive. It allowed for the possibility of a better life for everyone, not just the few.

When the term is used today, it’s almost always associated with an individual achieving fame and fortune. This type of thinking can wreck havoc in the workplace leading to escalating unrealistic expectations and a focus on individual achievement at the expense of the team. How individuals choose to behave in the workplace is a major driver of corporate suffering.

My hope is that the “wake up” call many received during this most recent economic downturn will result in a return to the original meaning of the American Dream, namely “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

The New York Times recently reported that Somerville Massachusetts added the question “How happy do you feel right now?” to their census in an effort to become the first city in the US to systematically track people’s happiness. Whether measuring happiness is the “right” parameter on which to judge is anyone’s guess—it certainly opens one up to ridicule as evidenced by the census answers reported. However, striving to understand our experience in ways beyond strictly quantifiable “objective” measures is to be applauded.

Our culture values the measurable. It’s a carryover from the Industrial Revolution when the manufacturing model was king. Look at what we focus on at work…it’s all about efficiency and effectiveness. We’re taught to overvalue what we can measure and undervalue everything else. While efficiency and effectiveness are certainly important, they don’t tell the complete story.

To be efficient and effective you need good managers, people who communicate effectively, encourage individuals to work as a team and create healthy environments that result in less turnover. The very behaviors that are critical to reducing suffering in the workplace. Those talents are often labeled “soft skills” a pejorative term for subjectively measured achievements. To stay profitable a company must innovate. Innovation requires creativity—rarely an efficient and effective process in the traditional sense.

The idea of using parameters beyond economic growth as a success measure is not new. The most prominent example was France’s 2009 effort to include happiness as an economic measure for their country. Evolving our measures is an important step forward in creating both a workplace and a world where people can thrive. Let’s hope more communities emulate the intent of the officials in Somerville.

 

One expert suggests the change of season is a good time for new success strategies to dispel on-the-job doom-and-gloom

NEW YORK – May 2, 2011 — There’s nothing like a little spring cleaning to reenergize and renew the spirits after a long, hard winter, but one career expert says more than our homes and yards need sprucing up.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of American workers are unhappy in their present work situation. Another recent study says that 61% of people said that if they could do it all over again, they would NOT choose the same career.

“Postpone shampooing the rugs, and spend a little time re-energizing your career path,” recommends ‘corporate navigator’ Amanda Mitchell.

After more than 20 years spent helping companies and employees figure out what they need and how to get it, Mitchell recommends the following ‘spring cleaning’ career strategies:

Clean out the negative influences/influencers in your life.
“You become who and what you surround yourself with,” says Mitchell. “Negative people and influences encourage you to think negatively, and that impacts how others perceive you.” She adds that not only does negativism make you unattractive to potential employers (“No one wants to hire a ‘Debbie Downer’”), you shortchange yourself by limiting your options. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Mitchell.

Don’t wallow in the dirt.
Be proactive not reactive—stop letting life happen to you. “Identify what you want and go after it. Quit living on the sidelines, blaming people and letting others control your career. Take action and accept responsibility for yourself and your career.”

You’re head of an important new project that senior management is very involved with which is funded out of another group’s P&L.
When you hear someone claim, “Older workers are not getting hired,” check it out, says Mitchell. “A recent news report spotlighted the fact that one reason older workers were not hired was their lack of technology skills. In other words, they couldn’t do the job. It wasn’t their age – the people fearful of learning new skills just happened to be older.” Mitchell warns clients not to accept merely at face value what colleagues, friends, family or the media tell you. “Use your critical thinking skills and figure out the ‘why’ behind their conclusion or uncover their bias. Even if you convince yourself a ’fact’ is true, remember there are always exceptions.“

Being happy on the job is great for personal satisfaction, but the stakes are much higher, says Mitchell. The Gallup Organization found that three-quarters of workers feel detached from their work, which translates into a $300 billion negative impact on business.

“Spring is about renewal and rebirth, so take the time to take stock of where you are and where you’re going, career-wise,” says Mitchell. “Sure, it’s a great time to clean out a closet or air out that favorite rug, but don’t forget to put the same ‘home improvement’ effort into your job and career path.”

About Amanda Mitchell and Our Corporate Life
Amanda Mitchell is the founder of Our Corporate Life LLC (www.ourcorporatelife.com), a company that offers a new system for reducing unnecessary workplace suffering caused by the organizational, interpersonal, and ethical issues of our time. Our Corporate Life (OCL) is founded on the belief that adhering to core human values and achieving business success are always compatible, a belief crystallized during her corporate career each time she witnessed a company sacrifice profitability by wasting human capital.

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No, I’m not talking about love among the cubicles—it’s the idea that has so many people all tangled up and unable to get out of their own way. “Finding Your Passion.” That concept alone is the biggest impediment to actually figuring out what you love to do. Just look on Amazon. You’ll find almost 200 books dedicated to the topic. How could so much information result in so few people who have actually found their passion?

The idea that passion equals success is a myth. It’s a misinterpretation of the noted mythologist Joseph Campbell’s famous quote “follow your bliss.” Jennifer Howard had an interesting take on the idea in her April 17 Huffington Post article “The Secret to Sustainable Passion.” She noted that because passion, like all emotion waxes and wanes, it is not sustainable. Passion can tell you if your goals are aligned with your values—which is Campbell’s point—but it’s really about commitment. That’s what gets you where you want to go.

Sure I’m biased. We work with people who are tired of sitting around complaining about not knowing what they want and are willing to do something about it. It’s not magic. You have to focus, objectively look at what you both like and want to do and then figure out how to express your wishes. It’s work, not a miracle.

Focusing on passion is often a delaying tactic. It allows you to avoid taking responsibility. After all if you don’t know what you want you can’t be held accountable for not having it in your life. However, if having a happy work life is important to you what you’re really doing is settling for a life of regrets.

You can figure out what you want and make a living at it. But it’s not just going to happen. You have to commit. Focus. Make choices. Work to understand what is truly important to you. Doable, yes? Something you can “outsource” to others? Not likely.

Lately our focus has been on identifying the lessons children need to learn in order to ultimately create a workplace where people and businesses thrive. So often by just looking around the office you can see behaviors so ingrained you just know that they were learned as kids. That’s why we’re designing our School Program for second graders with the ultimate end game of reducing corporate suffering.

Much of the current literature is about bullying and the long-term impact of that behavior on children. Certainly bullying is a form of abuse since at the heart of it is an attempt by one person to control or have “power” over another. With our wired society there are many creative ways a bully can torment their victim(s). Where do we draw the line though? Where does teasing or pulling a prank become bullying? When should someone step in and when is it better for kids to figure out their own way through a situation?

I wonder what we’re teaching kids when a 9 year old is suspended for putting a “kick me” sign on the back of a classmate which happened a few weeks ago at NYC’s PS 158. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with others—and life—when it doesn’t go our way. If we’re constantly stepping in to mediate, we’re denying kids the opportunity to learn how to resolve their own problems and reinforcing a culture of blame and learned helplessness.

How can we expect these kids to grow into adults who take responsibility for their successes and failures, who are able to resolve issues without escalating them and who can handle themselves in adverse situations? What impact will limiting “life lessons” have not only on the kids themselves, but on the workplace and our greater society? I wonder.

One of the benefits of a diverse society like ours is the influx of ideas, traditions, and different points-of-view that result from cultural differences. Openness to learning about others’ values, beliefs and ideas help us clarify our own thinking and often result in more effective solutions. Of course, what’s different can make us uncomfortable and even inspire fear. Personally I believe this is why so much of the rhetoric we’re exposed to is so negative.

In the past there was an assumption that regardless of your background, you loved this country and believed in its basic tenets. We had a common belief system that allowed us to connect with our neighbors regardless of differences. As we identify more with our cultural backgrounds and create labels for each other whether they’re based on economics, political beliefs, media habits, or personal attributes, we emphasize our differences at the expense of our commonalities. I believe this directly contributes to corporate suffering because it affects our ability to fully understand and build rapport with each other. Ultimately this impacts the strength of our thinking and solutions not to mention our ability to have compassion for each other as fellow human beings.

Shared experiences are one path to creating understanding. Think of how connected and strong the country felt immediately after 9-11. That horrific experience showed that we did still share quite a few values; we’d just been focused more on our differences.

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need a tragedy to remind us that we have much in common? What if we consistently looked for ways to understand each others’ perspective and build on shared experiences—whether work-related or just sharing our opinion regarding the recent Super Bowl—so that our first impulse was to listen thoughtfully to each other and treat each other with respect? I wonder what difference that would make in all aspects of our lives.

It’s no surprise to those in the corporate world that business and management issues have become increasingly complex and frequent in number. The sheer volume of daily decisions required just to keep pace with the routine aspects of business is daunting.

Determining the best business solution when technology, economic pressures and customer expectations continue to reshape virtually all aspects of creating and marketing goods and services is a Herculean task. At the same time management issues have increased as leaner structures/less resources have resulted in less training and mentoring and institutional learning is lost due to “right sizing”. It’s no wonder 61% of people said they would choose a different career if they could do it all over again. (Parade, Jan, 2011)

Leaders need critical thinking skills, good judgment and the ability to be comfortable in ambiguity to succeed. Unfortunately our current system does not adequately prepare any of us. We’re encouraged to memorize, game the system and succeed by any means necessary. Failing is not an option yet only through failure can we learn what will really work. Our desire for simplicity combined with the velocity and sheer volume of information often results in simplistic approaches to complicated problems.

For us to be able to innovate and truly add value to our businesses—and our world–we need to value and reward those who think unconventionally, give people “breathing space” to contemplate issues and celebrate those who try different solutions regardless of the results–as long as they keep trying until they find a workable one!

One of the good outcomes of the assassination attempt in Tucson last week is that people seem to be seriously questioning how the hostile social environment we’ve created is impacting our society. Words create our thoughts and thoughts direct our actions. As people feel free to state inflammatory and hateful rhetoric without fear of retribution a climate of extremism is created. Extreme words breed extreme behavior.

In our School Program we hope to teach second graders that you can disagree with a person’s ideas without considering them your “enemy”. Yet when you look around, it’s hard to support that concept. The idea that if someone isn’t “for” you they’re against you is communicated everywhere. Reality shows, political shows, general talk radio—it’s us against them…and “them” is the enemy no matter what the actual person is like. If they disagree with your position, they’re to be reviled. It’s very difficult to reduce corporate suffering when the predominant message you’re receiving is that others are out to get you.

The transparency and speed of communication has allowed us to learn of problems much earlier than ever before. We then demand—and expect immediate answers—it almost doesn’t matter if it’s the best answer as long as someone is taking action, any action. When a leader wants time to consider how to best address an issue, questions start being raised about their ability to lead whether they’re within a corporation or on a broader media stage. To keep their jobs they often feel pressed to choose between an immediate action or a considered decision. Is this in our best interests?

Unfortunately, some profit from fanning the flames and encouraging a negative social or work environment. It’s time to thoughtfully consider the agendas of those we’re listening to and understand what they stand to gain through encouraging divisiveness. By exposing their agendas we can reduce their influence and normalize our environment. Only then can we truly concentrate on doing the real work of making our society better.

Our economic situation has made it crystal clear that what happens to one of us, impacts the rest of the industrialized world as well. My hope is that we’re learning and applying that learning so we can avoid repeating the mistakes that have already been made.

Witness what is happening with the Greek economy. Michael Lewis writes in “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” that “the Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting….this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families. The structure of the Greek economy is collectivist, but the country, in spirit, is the opposite of a collective. Its real structure is every man for himself.”

If true, it’s as if that culture has reverted to the lowest common denominator in human behavior eg if you’re cheating, I’m a fool not to. And it didn’t become a problem until it affected their—and the EU’s—economy. It’s not clear if their behavior is viewed as any kind of a moral issue.

In the corporate workplace, the “every man for himself” ethos is alive and well. While I’m sure there are some who have such little faith in our system that they’re using it to justify their bad behaviors, I believe the vast majority of people are acting in good faith.

Working together, adapting our current corporate system to reflect our needs both present and future—will allow us all to prosper as we create a stronger, more resilient corporate workplace. Personally I can’t imagine anything worse than living in a world where we have no faith in our fellow man.

It’s not news that this past year has been challenging for many—individuals, companies and our country. Unlike past crises though this one seems to have divided us, not brought us together.

For many, the focus has been on placing blame, shooting holes in proposed solutions and remaining on the sidelines waiting for someone or something to “fix” the system, the economy, or whatever we believe is not right. All behaviors that perpetuate these problems while creating new ones. It’s no wonder corporate suffering is so prevalent.

My wish for 2011 is that we overcome this divisiveness and choose to work together to make things better. When a solution is proposed, we acknowledge the intent of the person/group that created it, look for what is right about the solution and add our thoughts on how it can be made even better. We understand that these are our problems to solve and actively look for ways to add value, help others and make our world a better place.

Imagine how fantastic the world we be if those were our “go to” behaviors?

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Taking Control of Your Career® Bootcamp Content Overview

Our Bootcamp is designed to get you back to feeling like yourself fast. To avoid overwhelm, we cover critical topics sequentially so you can make small changes quickly and experience immediate results.

1. New Beginnings

We start by creating a clear picture of your desired outcome and showing how feeling stuck can benefit you. You’ll also learn how to increase your physical and mental energy and a quick (less than 5 minutes!), easy way to improve your mood.

2. Setting Yourself Up For Success

It’s easier to succeed when your environment completely supports you. You’ll learn how to easily analyze yours and bring it into alignment. We’ll also cover techniques for viewing your work situation in a neutral, productive way–allowing you to move within it effortlessly.

3. Values & Standards

Values impact your behaviors, decisions, relationships and direction in life. Yet your values are often not aligned with your workplace. Standards are what we honor because we believe they will lead us to our goals. Logically you’d think high standards would result in a superior result but just the opposite often occurs. In this session we’ll cover how to maintain your standards when they’re not shared and how to stay true to yourself without making it an issue for others.

4. How Your Best Intentions Work Against You

If you’re like most achievers, you welcome and thrive on responsibility. Sometimes, however, your life can feel like one long “to do” list leaving little time to figure out what is working – or not – in your life. We’ll cover how to retrain your teammates, how to redefine your role and the concept of “responsibility without authority” – having one without the other makes success impossible.

5. Core Beliefs

Understanding how personal beliefs drive behavior is critical to freeing you from feeling trapped. This is a deeply personal and important aspect necessary to move into action. You’ll learn how to uncover the core belief that is out of alignment and the 5 step process you can use to replace it.

6. Who is in Control of Your Life?

Control is like catnip to high achievers – we all want it. But surprisingly few exercise control in the one area where they actually have it. This cycle of relentlessly trying to get control over an uncontrollable situation is exhausting and self–defeating. Resetting expectations so you can focus on fulfilling activities will provide the energy you need to regain your perspective and take action.

7. Setting Boundaries

If you’re surrounded by those who constantly violate your boundaries it will create conflict, drama and drain your energy. When you set and maintain appropriate boundaries you will experience an almost immediate reduction of stress. We will review the 5–step boundary setting process; discuss how to hold the line without alienating others or compromising your standards, and the implications of not being able to say “no”.

8. The Path Forward

Your work each session will have helped you uncover your personal traps and provided strategies for overcoming them. We’ll do a quick review and focus on how to use your strategic plan so you’ll never get in this situation again. We’ll also review how to appropriately take responsibility, how to manage workplace expectations and perceptions and the best habits for self–management when “overwhelm” strikes again – as it inevitably will.

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