America is long past the nostalgia for a golden age of company loyalty.
The idea of the company man, someone with an excessive commitment to serving the interests of the organization which employs him, is an outdated movie trope at best, and a misguided dream at worst.
Woolridge wrote a popular article at the turn of the millennium about this trend. She observed in the early nineties, the corporate world tore up the social contract that bound employees to their companies. Downsizing and reengineering made it clear that employees were expendable commodities, not valued resources.
Fast forward to today, and the business world is no different. Probably worse.
And no doubt, there are many amazing organizations out there who know how treat people like human beings. I’ve worked for several of them, and still do, and been deeply grateful every step of the way.
But many of my friends and colleagues have had jobs where they worked consistent all nighters and back to back weekends, finding themselves sending emails from their bed thirty seconds after waking up each morning.
And my thought was always, wow, maybe people should step back and ask themselves some very practical questions like.
Why are you killing yourself for these people? Why are you giving the best years of your life to a job that replace you within a week if you dropped dead?
Don’t be ungrateful or unprofessional or unproductive, but don’t sacrifice the best years of your life for this organization either. Learn to put boundaries around your generosity. Do as much as necessary and as little as possible. Save some of your talent for yourself.
Because if you give a company the best of you, they might never let it go. And you will only resent them in the end. Focus on giving yourself the best of you. Create value for the company, but service your gifts on their own terms. Do great work, but frame it in a way that makes it part of your legacy, not just theirs. Show up and contribute to the team, but find a way to become whole on your own terms.
Zuckerberg broke it down perfectly in the award winning biopic about his social network. He told the team of attorney trying to sue him, you have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount. The rest of it is doing things you’re not creatively capable of doing.
Remember, every business will use you, so why not use them back?
They haven’t earned the right to your deepest gifts. Do one for them, two for you. Or three or four for you.
Because loyalty is a commodity, not a commandment.
How strong are the boundaries around your generosity?