Ken Goldstein: The Root Word of Contemporary is Temporary
Updated: Mar 29
Sometimes I wonder if the advancing of age and a leaning toward old-fashioned values are a hindrance to relevancy in our contemporary workplace. Then I remember who taught me the most about workplace navigation in the early years of my professional career. It was bosses and colleagues advancing in age and leaning toward old-fashioned values.
I don’t think a bit of traditional thinking about the nature of workplace relationships is incompatible with rapid innovation, agile thinking, evolving workplace paradigms, and aspiring to more meaningful jobs. I think a bit of grounding is precisely what the doctor ordered. We all can learn from each other if we choose to listen.
One of the simplest and most striking plain language aphorisms I learned from a writing teacher many decades ago has never failed to inform my internal litmus test of change management. His name was J.D. McClatchy and he was a renowned poet. To my knowledge, he had no interest in business, but these words he taught me about writing have guided much of my business thinking:
”The root word of contemporary is temporary.”
Why is this gnawing away at me this particular moment? I am seeing a lot of individuals make terrible decisions in real-time that I am reasonably certain they will regret. They are trading the tangible present for a fragile future, often believing their choices are well-considered when they are unintentionally impulsive.
Much has been written of late about the Great Resignation. There is no doubt that Covid madness has wreaked havoc on our psyches. It is likely we will never see our lives the same way again after two rollercoaster years of public policy and uneven human isolation.
Ostensibly as a result, we see people quitting their jobs in record numbers to explore new paths. If handled elegantly, the liberation of a life change can be an enormous expression of creativity and empowerment. I’ve personally done it no fewer than four times in four decades with no regrets.
What’s my secret weapon for not burning bridges to embers? I’ve hung onto some of those old-fashioned values I learned early in my career.
Do what you want, when you want, where you want, and how you want at your own peril. Do it with a bit of finesse, and the mentors who helped get you this far may hang on with your journey quietly in the background for the rest of your ride.
It’s always perfectly fine to change jobs if you’re doing it for reasons that make sense to you, but you’re best served to do it admirably with serious planning, polite accommodation, and decent respect.
How egregious can we get in justifying some of our more lamentable choices? Here are some behaviors I’ve observed of late that I don’t think will serve people well.
A presumed job candidate schedules an interview with a potential employer and simply does not show up for the meeting—no email, no call, just a cold no-show.
A disgruntled employee walks off the job in the middle of a shift, unannounced, without explanation, and never shows up again; not coming back from lunch or break is a slightly less dramatic version of this bizarre concoction.
An even more disgruntled employee takes the extraordinary risk of in-person rage quitting, often accompanied by a cacophony of phrases best not repeated in a mainstream publication.
Someone with direct access to a company’s customers elects to ignore or dismiss the inquiry or encounter of an unsatisfied customer, perhaps with equal drama that leads to rage quitting while soiling a company’s brand.
An individual spontaneously rejects the well-intentioned constructive feedback from a manager’s review, and rather than discuss it with improvement in mind, ceremoniously destroys the relationship with someone who cares about them.
Once-attentive teammates emotionally check out, dial in the least possible effort for as long as they can hide it, and wait for someone in authority to notice.
That’s a quick collection of less than proud moments, don’t you think?
What’s the common lesson in talking yourself out of those behaviors and actions?
Don’t stop caring. Never stop caring.
To my good fortune, I’ve also been observing a steady base of colleagues, co-workers, and friends who aren’t drawn to the opportunism of fickle times. They cared about their jobs and the customers they have been honored to serve in the past. They care equally or more so now. Circumstances may be in flux, but their values are constant. They maintain a North Star of personal expectation. They make promises and keep them without excuse or compromise because that matters to them.
If you haven’t already lived through multiple recessions, it is a certainty that you will. Our economy is cyclical almost by design. Sometimes jobs are plentiful and you have your choice. Sometimes they are scarce and you take what you can get to provide for yourself and your family. Sometimes your skills are in high demand. Just when you think your expert knowledge is unequaled, it can become wildly obviated.
There are four very scary words that pop up every few years that I caution you to approach with skepticism:
“This time is different.”
Of course things are different. We live in a high-stakes world of volatile change. That is the blessing and curse of igniting technologies. It is the very stuff of innovation and unlimited opportunity.
Yet some things are not different.
Integrity. Honesty. Trust. Commitment. Dedication. Dependability. Sacrifice. Selflessness. Caring. Grit.
You can easily convince yourself these are simply old-fashioned words, empty crossword puzzle entries that no longer matter in a world assuring you that personalization and independent reward are all that should matter. If your long-term reputation comes second to your immediate needs, you have made a choice that carries untoward risk.
I’d caution you before that cement hardens to remember what my writing teacher taught me:
The root word of contemporary is temporary.
About the Author...
Ken Goldstein is the author of three books, This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness; Endless Encores: Repeating Success through People, Products, and Profits; and From Nothing: A Novel of Technology, Bar Music, and Redemption, all published by The Story Plant.