Nothing to Lose

When you are young and just starting out in your career, life is a greenfield. PokerOpen. New. Unencumbered by personal history. It’s during this very era in life when anything new – anything – binds itself to a lattice of growth and advancement.

My husband advises his colleagues just starting out to change, change, change. Accept the new job, find the new opportunity, take the risk. Because right now, he says, you have nothing to lose. The time will come, quickly, when change will feel a bit more unnerving, when you calculate without thinking what you stand to lose if you get it wrong. It may be quite some time until you find yourself in a position to be so readily fluid again.

And yet we are told that change is a constant and we know, through acid experience, that it can come to us by grand and ferocious means. Simply put, when you have nothing to lose, change is a blessing, regardless of your level of control over it.  When you can touch the potential loss, especially if it is out of your control, it sucks.

Even if you find yourself in a troubled, stressful, out of bounds environment, losing the small island you have at someone else’s hand is distressing.

Or as a friend put it the other day at lunch, in reference to the announcement of yet another restructuring at her employer and the subsequent contemplation of her next move, at least it was a devil she had learned to work with.

Since the fall of 2008, the employment market has been hard. Sluggish growth, high unemployment, corporate belt tightening and an uncertain regulatory environment have created a kind of psychological compression that makes even those just starting out uneasy about the future. The Gallup Corporation, a pretty highly respected group of researchers who look into employee engagement and satisfaction, found that in 2012 70% of US workers said they were not truly engaged in their jobs on a daily basis. 18% of those surveyed said they were actively disengaged. What this does on an economic, social and workplace level is staggering. It’s safe to say that people today feel stuck by their circumstance, dealing with the devil they know to get by. No greenfield, no belief that their career holds promise and possibility.

Which, in my mind, begs the question: Must one fluctuate in a professional life to playing offense at times and defense at other times, or is the best trajectory to remain on offense? I’ve thought about this a lot. Mostly because I’ve known many people over the years who have lost something during their careers due to external events. Some have recovered, even thrived. Others, though, have not been so fortunate.

The ones who thrived had answered that thorny question with a single approach – play offense. They stay with something because it works for them. When it stops working for them professionally, either through their own realization or via external forces, they don’t look for protection. They act as if the next step will be a greenfield, regardless of how that greenfield comes to them or what it looks like. It is, after all, a new chance to learn, to achieve, to find satisfaction.

They act as if they have nothing to lose.

Maybe the growing fear about having something to lose has less to do with what you might tangibly give up vs. no longer believing that you can only continue to go up.

The truth is, every path is both greenfield and minefield. Neither is permanent and neither can completely make or break you. There comes a time in every career cycle where external growth slows. You could stay still, start playing defense to keep your work world static for a while. Or you could refashion your image of the greenfield and find another one to play in. You could act as if you still have nothing to lose. Guess what? You really don’t.




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