Quit Your J-O-B!


We have to have filters through which we see the world.  Otherwise, we’d be overwhelmed by it all.  Our filters are unique, shaped by our families and cultures, our own predispositions, education and philosophy; and our filters are colored by our inner wells of hope and love, fear and hurt.  So, for example, you might have a filter this morning on email that frames it as, “an annoyance and a waste of time,” or a filter that frames the email  – okay, this is hard to imagine – so that you think: “Isn’t it great that all these people want to be in touch with me?!!!”

One filter that 99% of us share is:  “I want to have a good J-O-B.”  A job is like a big slot out there that we slide into, which we hope will fit.  We get the job, do most of it, and the check comes every two weeks.  Maybe one day we step up the ladder to a new box/job that we slide into to do what that  job description says. 

I think that basic filter of the J-O-B serves us poorly these days.  I like this view of earning a living better:  “I’m going to create so much value in the world that I WILL be well compensated.”   My activity to earn a living might include a job (or two), or a contract or two or three, or stuff I sell, or services, or a duplex I rent, or many combinations of these activities.  But it’s not a box into which I fit.

A friend of mine is a very successful entrepreneur who sold the business he toiled to build.  The company endures, employing over 40 people.  He and I were talking about J-O-B-s.  He said, “When I interviewed people, I would say, ‘Why do you want to work here?’”   Almost every time, they would say things like, “I need a job,” and “I like your company,” and “I’ve heard good things about your place,” and “I’ve always wanted to be in this industry.”  He said that almost never did he hear, “I want to work here because I know I can add value to what you do.” Or “I like what your company is all about and I want to make it better.”  They saw the company as a thing and the job as a thing.  As an entrepreneur he saw the company not as a thing but as a constant activity, risking, pursuing, calculating, creating, partnering, competing to make something better and the whole, profitable.  And he was looking for people who’d see the job not as a static thing to occupy but as a place from which to create, add value, find savings, and wow customers.  Isn’t the difference between the “thing” and the “activity” stark?

Michigan, in particular, is dying for entrepreneurs – within and without – to make us alive, to seize opportunities that exist in tough times, to risk, and to fight to make risks winnable. Filling the box of the J-O-B – especially when there are not enough jobs – will not be enough.   So…

I’d invite you to quit your J-O-B today.  And begin – or begin again – to examine how you can add value every day to others in their work and lives; don’t fill a box, but instead create something great.  It’s the heart of entrepreneurism: to create value for other people, for which they are happy to pay you in return.  It’s also the heart of the most important work we do – raising children; that’s not a job but an extraordinary activity of creation and Value adding!

Lead with your best self!


  • Dan –

    I couldn’t agree more. When I’m asked about entrepreneurship, and my own story, I tell folks one of the hardest parts for me at the beginning was to learn to “stop thinking like an employee”. Now, I’m unemployable, I could never “work for someone else”. I’ve never had more fun than I’ve had in the last eight years of running Menlo Innovations, nor have I ever worked harder. I sleep better than ever, too. The hard work of trying to add value every moment of every day is both draining and rewarding.

  • Dan,

    I have been told that if you have a career that you love, you will never work a day in your life. I believe it too!

    I have been blessed with such a career, where I begin my day knowing that what I do really makes a difference in the lives of the families that I touch.

    I haven’t had a J-O-B, for years and I am ever mindful of how truly blessed I am.

    ~The TIP Lady

  • Washing our hands of wrong assumptions is important, Dan.

    As you have mentioned, the way we think is conditioned by our life experiences. If we’ve spent our life in a classroom, we tend to think as a student or teacher. If we’ve spent our work life as an employee, we tend to think as an employee.

    Many new entrepreneurs talk-the-talk of the entrepreneur — but their thinking is still grounded in their life as an employee. This can be deadly to their goals and aspirations.

    Most employees don’t think about where the money comes from to pay their weekly wages and benefits. Or how the cash must flow to meet next month’s payroll. Or what accounts are becoming payable, or when tax deposits, rent, and loan payments are due. Or where the money will come from to allow the company to deliver a large order just received from its largest customer…

    It’s difficult for an employee to learn to think “outside the box” — whereas the entrepreneur thinks only outside the box, because the box is the venture, and the entrepreneur needs to keep the box firm, clean, full and together.

    New entrepreneurs must learn to continually question their assumptions. The decisions that are most likely to come back and bite them — perhaps put them out of business — are typically NOT the consequence of bad judgement or faulty reasoning — but the consequence of applying perfectly sound judgment to wrong assumptions.

  • Good morning Dan,

    I read your article and it reminded me of a conversation with my dad, Bert Kempker, years ago.
    I was looking through the Sunday paper at the Want Ads. He asked what I was doing and I replied “Looking for a job.”
    He said – “You don’t want a job!” This was news to me since I was working as a nurse and still had some college expenses to pay off. He explained, “You want a position. IN a position, you find out what the company’s mission and vision is. You figure out how you can best help them achieve their mission. And you go to them and explain what your contribution will be. In a position, you help them create their future. ” It was sage advice.

    Years later, Jan Bellack, a scholar in Massachusestts said – “You have a job and you have a career. Don’t let the job get in the way of your career.” This spoke to me again about the contribution we make.

    thanks for your message this morning. Your notes are a good way to focus on Monday mornings.

  • I agree!
    I took a facilities manager position in a state agency on the strength of interviewer’s statement of needs in the interview. I saw I could make a difference here. I told them my philosophy of facilities management and they were enthusiastic.
    One month into the job, my supervisor said I wasn’t going to “fit into our group” so I was being demoted to Office Assistant. I had three weeks (the 3 weeks preceding Christmas) to find another job. Facilities jobs are hard to come by so that search failed.

    Three years later, I’m still looking for another job, but I am a woman over fifty so not a desirable commodity, though I’m told I’m very attractive and very few guess my age at fifty, much less older.

    I have no hope of promotion here, the main boss made it clear he doesn’t see me as capable of anything higher than office assistant. My mortgage is too large to retire and let my husband support me. I’m trying to build a Mary Kay skincare business, but that is slow, as any new business from scratch is.

    My best accomplishment in life is my children, put through college by my husband and myself, and they have successful professions they love.

    Thanks for your column. I wish you could solve the age discrimination I see in state govenment.

  • Dan,

    Wonderful insight! A couple of days ago, I caught myself telling a friend that I really needed someone to give me a job. I almost choked as the words came out of my mouth…I wanted someone to “give” me something, as though I were a supplicant looking for a handout, instead of a lively powerhouse of energy and ideas looking for a lucky individual or organization to share them with. Drawing unemployment benefits for the first time in my life has taught me how much I dislike receiving income I consider unearned and based on need — and that I had no right or reason to ask anyone to “give” me anything. This attitude is the other edge of the sword meant to fight the dire consequences of losing one’s J-O-B and its insidious, though unintended effects had moved me from partner to petitioner. We all work for someone else, whether it is another person, a business, or a community. Apparently, the real trick is to figure out what I can provide that that person, business, or community needs…and is willing to buy from me. I’m still working on that part, but I can tell you — it has made my application cover letters much more interesting to read!

    Thanks, Dan.

  • Dan,

    I love this article — thanks for sharing. This is one of the key reasons I decided to strike out on my own. It often seemed that JOBS defined activities in many of my previous companies, and actually limited value creation (and people’s energy & passion — too much “pacing yourself” was going on!) I’d hear things like, “You can’t do that — it isn’t part of your JOB description”, even though it was a value-creating activities with large potential benefits for the firm. I personally don’t want to be limited by a job description, because that limits what is possible. And I’m trying to build a business that also follows that philosophy.

    Entrepreneurship and value creation are what will help Michigan rise again, and that will create plenty of JOBs. Hopefully, people will come into them wanting more than just a paycheck.

    Randy Dean

  • Dan,
    Your post is timely. On a recent family trip my brother-in-law asked my husband and I to give my 17 year old niece — who is entering her senior year of high school and just applied to MSU and U-M — for some advise. I told her to follow her heart, find her ‘voice’ and her passion in a career and she will never have a J-O-B. All of which I learned later in my career and is serving me well. I am forwarding this on to her. Thanks for the continual motivation.


  • Cass116,
    Thanks for writing so candidly.
    I have two suggestions:
    1. I would, in the most respectful manner you can find, ask for a full and fair assessment of your performance. If you are limited to office assistant, what are the reasons? Are they knowledge, skill, attitude, judgment? What is the basis for those conclusions (not asked in a defensive way but to understand how you “show up” to others at work, how you are perceived)? I would ask-discuss what remedial steps might exist, based on the “diagnosis” of your performance limits.
    2. I would review this strategy – sharing more of the facts and context that you have understandably not put in this blog post – with somone in HR whom you trust. Preferably someone in your own department, but potentially someone outside. And get their counsel on your strategy.
    I would frame the approach in the same way you’d appraoch a Mary Kay customer: how can you improve their life and add value to how they are living.
    p.s. I agree that raising children is a tremendous accomplishment!

  • Dead on….

    Just quit a very comfortable job a month ago because I KNEW it was not going anywhere and frustrated with a change in leadership in the organization. Crazy right, in this economy? If I wanted to find a similar job, it probably was not going to happen in this economy. It was not until I turned my focus around and started calling companies that I was interested in and started selling what value I could bring to their organization, that the doors started to open. Happy to say that I have been on several interviews and have received three job offers.

  • Dan, that was one of the better pieces you have written. Can you imagine where Michigan or the USA would be today if people embraced their work with the attitude “what value can I bring to this company and our customers today”! It certainly is not too late for any of us to approach our work and life by living a life of service.

  • Dan,

    I based my focus on providing a value added service for my customers when I was in business. Money comes after goods rendered, either in service, trades, or commodities.

    Is it true that Obama has created yet another new department, calling it Sherwood Forest of Nottingham? You know that story…..steal from the rich to give to the poor…….this twist though is to create a socialist welfare dependant state.

    I’ll be in Washington, D.C. on September 12th. See http://www.912DC.org ….. Hopefully we can show someone thee that printing money with reckless abandon, and giving it to the special interest groups and insider connected ones is a recipe for disaster. Don’t trust me, though, ask Warren Buffet.

    I’m curious what type of entrepenureal endeavors will be successful in Michigan. Please give me some ideas. Gov’t subsidies for start-ups?

  • Mark,
    I feel frustrated with your continued suggestions that there are “insubordinate,” or I am censoring, because I have always treated you with respect, have described the problem, and am having a hard time continuing to listen to you as a two-way communicator. Are you listening? I am not sure if it is the length of your posts or something about your address/url that is sending them into moderation, but it decidedly has NOTHING to do with your political views.
    I’ve asked my webmaster to investigate, and I would appreciate the same good faith attitude from you as I try to extend TO you.
    thanks for you consideation,

  • Dan,

    Thanks for the explanation. I just have found it peculiar that the only folks who’ve been ‘moderated’ are those with a differing viewpoint. I fully accept as honest your explanation, and do not want this to be deemed anything more than a website ‘glitch’ as you’ve stated. On that note, my sincere apology is offered.

    Also, taking on a vocation, or avocation, with zeal, and a desire to produce results first and foremost, rather than begrudgingly go to ‘your j-o-b’ everyday…..that is the key element to success and growth, both as an individual, and for the entity of which you reside with in employment. Thanks for the good perspective/insight. I pray that this country can right itself from the lopsided cargo-hold in the bowels of the ship, that is causing a capsize situation. I really think Warren Buffet should be listened to more closely.

  • Great post this week, Dan. A number of people in the workforce were part of a company over the years (e.g., Pfizer, Ford) where there was an expectation that if one did one’s work, did not steal or participate in other illegal activities, that a job would be theirs for the rest of their career.

    Obviously, this just isn’t the case anymore. While I’m optimistic about keeping my own job as I write this, I know that could change at any time, most likely as a result of circumstances that are outside of my control. But at this point, if my employer says “Thanks for everything, but we no longer have a need for your services …” I’ll use the same approach you describe, to tell people how I can have a positive impact on their enterprise.

    That might be in the role of a consultant rather than an employee. Reading the posts of many other writers on this site, I think the drive and ability to work as an independent consultant is an option for many of them (and in many cases, it’s what they’re doing already).


  • I read some interesting articles today. One was in the Tuesday, August 25, 2009 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA); Op-Ed page, titled “Obama’s Ratings – Administration Should Pay Attention To the People” by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.
    Another series of interesting articles were in today’s (Tues. Aug. 25th, 2009) Wall Street Journal. Opinion page:
    “Saving The Obama Presidency” Main St. by William McGurn
    “Tax Penalties and The Health-Care Bill” by James M. Peaslee
    “Obama’s Summer of Discontent” by Fouad Ajami

    All very relevant totoday’s J-O-B market…..imho.


  • Mark,

    Thank you for pointing out these articles. Of course, the American Enterprise Institute is a very conservative organization, and the Wall Street Journal, while having a very respectable news organization, is also known to have a conservative editorial department.

    I read several of the articles you referenced, and there is some useful information in them. However, they tend to take a partisan approach in that they’re generally negative on anything Obama does. If you’ve kept track of business news over the last six months, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet — especially in terms of job losses — but many indicators are way up, including the Dow, Nasdaq, manufacturing and housing. So your sources should be considered as potential references, but not gospel, any more than a statement by Keith Olbermann or Rush Limbaugh should be viewed as the ultimate truth.

  • Tony,

    I do not see a clear relationship between the Dow and Nasdaq being up and a brighter economic future. Someone has to invest the free money being printed at the Treasury and given away to Wall St., Government Motors, et al. Manufacturing up???….Where? Housing up???… Where, but more precisely, what kind of housing? Apartments/section 8 make up the majority of that statistical basis, and we all know that those types of dwellings are not indicative of a strong middle class revival, but more are along the lines of socialist realities. In socialist/fascist countries, there is a miniscule middle class, a very decidely big jump in the vastness of wealth for a few, and a lot of lower class. Sort of the Patricians/Plebes of feudal times.
    Wall Street Journal may have certain philosophical leaning tendancies, but you certainly cannot discount the intelligent prose, and absolutely cannot lump that periodical in with zealot fools as you’ve mentioned as mouthpieces for the ‘right’ and ‘left’. Those folks on tv and radio are part of a fraternity/sorority that includes the likes of Howard Stern….all ‘shock jocks’….no value to me. I feel duped by this administration, and you can rest assured, I will NEVER vote for a candidate from the Big 2 again.

  • In response to Mr. Mulhern’s response to Cass116,

    While I am not knowledgeable of the particulars of Cass116’s experience in state government one phrase that she used is something I have experienced that is repeatedly uttered “you don’t fit it.” I’m not sure who would want to fit in. The culture of state government and of agencies such as the Department of Human Services are such that if you’re an outsider, if you want to use your intelligence to think outside of the box, if you want to speak of best practices, it is not welcome or accepted…”you don’t fit in.” This comes from someone with an education, with experience in the nonprofit, private, and public sectors, someone young (and sometimes naive) enough to still think they can make an impact. I am not bitter but I am disappointed. I expected better. This is not a reflection of the character of the administration…it simply does not trickle down. Sometimes I wonder if the folks who have been around take bets on how long it takes a newcomer to state government to lose their idealism. I’ve had a number of people tell me that until you learn to just say okay, stop questioning, and do what you’re told without seeking further understanding you will continue to cause friction and discomfort in the work environment and it will only cause you strife. I’ve also been told by those who have been here upwards of 20 years that I’ve caught on too quickly and that it usually takes at least a little bit longer to become disillusioned. It is most frustrating and disheartening and something that I can’t even begin to comprehend or understand. Why wouldn’t an agency want to be respectfully questioned? Why doesn’t an agency understand that different viewpoints are valuable? Why are outsiders discounted and told that they just don’t understand? An agency with employees who feel listened to, who feel like they have an opportunity to make an impact are going to be far more valuable than those with broken spirits who can’t wait to sprint out the door at 4pm everyday. I’m not sure of all state agencies but I know a number of them that are in desperate need of a distinct cultural shift and until that happens…if employees of these agencies were to read this RFL and take it literally…there would be plenty of job opportunities in Michigan because a large portion of state employees would vacate their positions. People join state government to serve and they find that there is only to be let down when they attempt to vocalize the changes needed and necessary to not only ensure the health and well-being of the state agencies but of the citizens we serve. I’m aware of the value I can bring. I just can’t find anywhere that truly seeks anyone beyond someone who will just do what they are told and keep their mouth shut.

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