Football fever (soccer fever for the Americans) is running high. The current FIFA World Cup season is the fifth time I’ve become, temporarily, a “football widow.” As long as Germany stays in the game I will not see much of my husband (he was born and raised in Berlin.)
The schedule of viewing parties at local restaurants, pubs, friends’ homes and our own living room is dizzying. However I had never accompanied my husband to a pub viewing party. So this year, at the invitation of friends and for the first time ever, I decided to go along and see what the fuss was about.
It was the U.S. vs. Portugal. Pubs are not my usual scene. I expected the big crowd and endless flow of draft beer around me. What surprised me was the intensity of emotion in the room. It wasn’t an elimination round, however the fans hung on every movement of the players’ magic feet. It was as if national security depended on a goal.
The very presence of a crowd emits an intensity of its own. The dark side of this energy is mob behavior. The bright side is a sense of shared participation in a fun activity. The latter is what I experienced in that moment. I also sensed that there was something bigger than camaraderie contributing to the atmosphere.
The core driver of the excitement, I believe, was the idea that despite all of the skill, practice hours and passion of the players involved, no one really knew who would win or lose. That’s the nature of games and why people love being a player or an observer.
Games of chance have a strong and self-perpetuating allure. At work in the pub that night was an aura of mystery and alertness rather than vice. What I felt in room was the happy anticipation of a positive surprise. Being who I am, I tried to find meaning in all of it.
I believe that work can be as exciting as that football game. Really.
Despite our best efforts and intentions, there is an unknown variable at play that we cannot control. Call it fate, fortune, or destiny, it’s the idea that ultimately whatever will be will be. Que sera sera.
Regardless of age and background, there are people who feel it’s necessary to make things happen and those who take a more relaxed approach and let things happen. We tend to positively judge the former and negatively judge the latter.
My game observations caused me to re-evaluate this judgment and to consider whether those who let things happen are on to something.
IMPLICATIONS FOR MILLENNIALS AT WORK
The following points related to managing millennials were in the media this June:
- Millennials were dealt a bad hand by the economy. LA Times: “Four in 10 millennials say they feel overwhelmed by debt, poll finds.”
- Millenials are turning to entrepreneurship to take control of their future. Baltimore Sun: “Baltimore millennials creatively forge their own career path.” Daily Freeman: “Millennials in the Hudson Valley carving their own work paths?”
- Big corporations continue to struggle to retain millennials. There is a lack of talent in the pipeline for the c-suite, once boomers retire. Forbes: “Watch Out, Boomers, Here Comes The Millennial Workforce.”
This last article from Forbes referred to a 2012 Harvard Business Review blog post: “Make the Job A Game,” which encourages employers to create environments that bring out at work the same enthusiasm that millennials show in other areas of life.
At first I found the idea of making work a game to be ridiculous. However, I now think there is something to this.
I’ve never played soccer. However I can imagine all of the actions the players must do in order make it to the world cup elite. They must:
- Practice their game.
- Work out their bodies.
- Rest their bodies.
- Abstain from behaviors that compromise their physical and mental ability.
- Meditate on winning, the competition, and their game strategy.
- Persevere despite weather conditions.
- Treat physical injuries.
- Collaborate with their teammates on the field.
- Respect their coach.
- Love the game.
Players who do these things are doing their part to make things happen. At work, the star players have a regimen too. They must:
- Practice their skills to stay sharp and competitive.
- Work out their bodies to stay healthy and keep the mind focused.
- Rest their bodies and minds to maintain health, avoid burn out or costly mistakes.
- Abstain from inappropriate workplace behaviors.
- Study to stay current in their area of expertise.
- Persevere despite lean teams and tight budgets.
- Tend to any physical or mental ailments.
- Align colleagues and stakeholders on important decisions.
- Respect the culture and leadership of the organization.
- Love the game.
The colleagues who demonstrate these behaviors tend to be those go-to people who make things happen. Let’s assume that millennials who are college educated and hired into big corporations are this type.
What happens when people who try to make things happen come into situations where they cannot control the outcome? Do they accept what cannot be controlled for what it is, a game of chance? Or do they still hold on to the idea that the future is entirely in their hands and that a move to a different team or organization will be in their best interest?
As coaches of the future c-suite executives, there is an opportunity to share with our millennial colleagues a lesson that some of us learned the hard way. Any random variable can undo the most meticulously prepared career plans. It could be a new legislation, a new technology, a change in leadership, a change in consumer preference, or a change in personal life. Any of these things can happen at any moment and they will impact our career trajectories, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.
Could knowing this change the perspective of millennial employees? While there is the risk of a negative surprise, there is also the possibility of a positive surprise. It’s exactly this mystery that fuels excitement.
CALL TO ACTION
If we balanced our striving to make things happen with the stillness of letting things happen, it would create valuable whitespace between our efforts, giving us room to breathe, balance and enjoy the journey.
Indeed, career outcomes can be seen as games of chance. This fact (or heresy) can be embraced and leveraged as a source of energy and excitement, or can be denied. If the latter, then we have chosen to fight the existence of a higher order or plan of action that is outside of our control. Thinking this way usually doesn’t lead to personal fulfillment or self-actualization.
Accepting that there is a difference between what we can control and what we cannot, and choosing, at times, to let things happen instead of incessantly trying to make things happen, has long been considered by clerics and philosophers to be a key to personal happiness. This can also be a key to job satisfaction as one waits for a desired outcome.
Stacie Hoffmeister is the founder of Facts + Heresies, the brand consultancy that helps companies win the loyalty of affluent millennials. Click here to subscribe to newsletter.