Of Gerbils and Groundhogs

Supposedly Mark Twain said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  The meaning being, of course, that it is easy to produce a lot of words and hard to condense them into something pithy, meaningful, and interesting.

I have been writing a presentation on career development.  I first made a Powerpoint presentation.  Then wrote copious notes for each slide.  Then I videoed the presentation using screen capture to see how it sounded and how long it would take.  It was very disjointed.  I knew what I was trying to say but it wasn’t organized.  I eventually gave up and went for a walk.

During that walk I condensed the entire thing into this:

Action matrix

You need to be self-aware.  You need to act.  This is true in life as well as career, because after all, a career is just part of your life.


The victim has an external locus of control and does not act to improve his circumstances.  He has lots of stories about how full of bullsh*t everyone is.  I know this person and he can’t keep a job.  Nor can we family members help him because when we even approach the subject we are criticizing him.  We are against him.  Everyone in the world sucks, except him I guess.


I have had a few strugglers work for me.  They do their jobs.  They work pretty hard.  They apply for promotions and never get them.  They have absolutely no idea why.  When I ran into Nancy recently and asked about how things were going her eyes welled up.  She had again been turned down for a promotion.  But as I wrote in an earlier post, when I asked her about how her district was spending certain funds she said she had no idea and didn’t want to ask in case they tried to make it her job.  Nancy acts but has little awareness of her shortcomings.  She does not stretch herself.  She does the same things over and over, like a gerbil in a wheel.  She doesn’t take the “next step”.  She just repeats the same step.


The dreamer knows about responsibility for one’s own success – in theory.  Such people are full of handy sayings:  “Hurting people hurt” or “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve”.  That sort of thing.  Aphorisms can actually become substitutes for action.  Such people would rather philosophize than act.  But philosophies that are not grounded in real world experience are pretty hollow.  Such people know it is up to them, and yet their magical thinking still places the locus of control outside themselves.  They bargain.  “If I think, say or believe this or that then the Universe will provide”.  Their cubicles declare their beliefs rather than their bodies, minds, and lives.  Yes, of course, if you don’t believe you can do it, then you won’t try.  Just lighten up on the aphorisms and start doing.


The achiever knows it is up to him and he acts.  His actions teach him about himself.  Obstacles and failures instruct.  They say “you need to pay attention to this”.  Even when the course of action is not clearly defined (and it rarely is) he takes action and learns from it.  He finds out that life can really suck from time to time, because he is trying something new and sometimes new things are messy.  Life is messy.  Keep going.

Ready, Fire, Aim

While this is an unwise process when dealing with firearms, it is a useful practice when dealing with a career.  Take that class, apply for that job, or volunteer for that project.  Take the next step – whatever you currently conceive that to be. You’ll either learn that this is the way to go, or you’ll learn that is not the way to go.  Anything that you conceive of in your mind prior to action is not nearly as instructive as what you learn by doing it.  If you learn that this is not a good direction, sharpen your aim and fire (act) again.  Eventually you’ll develop true authenticity and job satisfaction.  And that is never learned through cute aphorisms.

This is how your career, and your life, develops.  Not the way you imagined.  It develops messily, through trying.  It is sort of like the movie Groundhog Day, now that I think of it.

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