The Career of Fear

There is a movie called Company Man that stars Ben Affleck. It is the story of Ben’s character coming to terms with being fired from the company that he has worked for his entire life.

After getting fired, Ben’s character struggles mightily to find new work. In his past job, he became highly specialized for the company, and now he is a middle-aged man unable to find work through the traditional resume and interview process, and he is forced to resort to doing construction work for a time with a family member.

I watched it around the time I was looking for my first professional job, and it impacted me. I remember thinking “That is not going to happen to me”.

In my mind, I would escape this problem by never truly committing to work. If I never got into a position of responsibility, if I never really became specialized, if I never work for a company for more than a couple years, then I wouldn’t have this problem.

I had a lot of bad ideas about work at the time, but at a fundamental level, my mindset about work was disempowered.

The movie conveys the idea that the company is bad for firing a long-term employee. That they aren’t loyal and that people should be afraid of giving themselves fully to their work. It paints a company as evil for trying to maximize profit and for ending a relationship when that relationship is no longer profitable.

I think the movie represents the fears most people have about work, but most people’s ideas about work are wrong.

Most people have a non-entrepreneurial view of work. They think jobs are something beyond their control and that you need to get someone to give you one instead of having the ability to create one yourself.

Most people are passive traders. They think that even though you are paid and compensated according to the terms of your contract, you are owed a deeper “loyalty” because you show up and do your job.

Most people view work as a status game. They feel you are a loser if you change careers late in life. That doing something like briefly working construction as you make a job change is a terrible fate.

Most people are anti-capitalist. They think a company making decisions to maximize profit (and secure its future) are bad when it means firing people. Even though not firing people who are no longer creating value would eventually mean everyone losing a job when the company tanks.

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