March 28, 2009

Employable: Three Lessons from a Popcorn Farm

I used to like to go to work, but they shut it down.
I got a right to go to work, but there's no work here to be found.
Yes and they say were gonna have to pay what's owed.
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed.
--- Dire Straits, Telegraph Road

This month, four acquaintances lost their jobs. Each worked at a different company. Two found better positions. The other two are looking and I wish them well. 

How can you make yourself employable?

You can insure against the risk of losing your livelihood with tips from the Harvard Business Review in an earlier post. There are no guarantees, though. Much like farming.

We visited a popcorn farm last week. Frankly, there's not much to see, but we did stock up on our favourite snack. We learned three lessons that help nonfarmers. Even nongardeners.
  1. you can't control the weather
  2. work while you wait
  3. show you care
You Can't Control the Weather
There will be a rain dance Friday night, weather permitting.
--- George Carlin
Many factors affect farmers: rainfall, sunshine, temperature, pests, the price of seed, the availability of fertilizer, the skills of labour, equipment breakdowns, injuries, market demand, competition.

While weather is certainly a concern, there is little the farmer can do about it. However, the farmer can take steps like having an irrigation system to deal with years of lower-than-expected rainfall. Or build a greenhouse, depending on the crop.

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about our large circle of concern and our smaller circle of influence. We may worry about the economy, the environment, corporate governance, and terrorism. We probably can't do much about those concerns. Instead, we must focus on what we can change --- including ourselves.

Work While You Wait
Too often, man handles life as he does the bad weather. He whiles away the time as he waits for it to stop. --- Alfred Polgar
Crops grow at their own pace. Growth takes time and a favorable environment. We work now but must wait to see the results and hope for the right outcome. There's no point playing the blame game (" If only management had/hadn't done that ..."). There's no point cramming either. You can't reap tomorrow what you sow today.

There's no point sitting idly either. While waiting for the crops, we can take care of the weeds. We can work on the weaknesses in our strengths. Seth Godin suggests we use slack time to
  1. become an expert by learning something (can include charitable work)
  2. earn a following and reputation through social networks (e.g., I use LinkedIn and now Twitter)
Show You Care
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
--- Theodore Roosevelt
You'll quit farming if your heart isn't in your work. Negative sentiments show in poor crops. We've all known people who see work as a burden, who spread their discontent like weeds, who cut corners. Who don't care. Who lighten the atmosphere when they leave.

Even if we work in the virtual world or in tall climate-controlled office towers on what was once farmland, nature reminds us that much lies beyond our control. Yet we persevere. We survive. We change. We thrive. Life finds a way. We find a way.


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