March 28, 2012
What 'The Hunger Games' can teach us about work
A challenge, a test, a modern coliseum of brutal competition and limited rewards: At one point or another, for many of us, the workplace can be all of these.
I was thinking about the similarities between the gauntlet of job do's and don'ts in anticipation of last weekend's release of the movie "The Hunger Games," in which 16-year-old heroine Katniss Everdeen is forced to compete in a deadly, government-run tournament on live TV.
All right, I admit it's a bit weird to compare work to a dystopian world where the 99 percent fight to the death, but follow me for a minute on this one.
Office gossip, stretched budgets and stagnant pay, today's ultra-competitive job pool and frustrating unemployment, the often-perplexing path to promotion, that elusive recipe of work/life balance: Sometimes it feels like a fight, if not to the death (I hope there are no bows and arrows in your lunchroom, in any case), then at least to maintain one's sense of job security and optimism.
I actually think there are some things we can learn from "The Hunger Games" about how to win at work:
Find allies. Katniss finds Rue, an unlikely ally whom the other tributes ignore or discount. Katniss looks past Rue's seeming weaknesses -- size, youth, humility -- and finds a cunning, loyal collaborator, a clever tree jumper who evades deadly lab-engineered wasps (oh, and she can spy, too).
So what can we learn from this: find a tree-jumping office mate? Not unless you're in the landscaping business. In the game of work, we'll cross paths with rivals and with those who can help us attain our goals. It's up to us to discern the difference, so judge carefully. When you find the right person, ask for an alliance (OK, maybe in not those words, exactly, unless you want to cause alarm and maybe have someone file a report with HR). But don't be afraid to partner, and to mentor as well.
Follow your own code. Katniss knows her priorities: She wants to protect her beloved family from harm and continue to provide for them. Beyond her immediate goals, Katniss harbors growing desires to improve the system. Despite the fact that she belongs to a stratified, brutal, less-than-fair society, Katniss has a clear sense of what is right and wrong, and it drives her choices.
What we can learn from this: Know your priorities. Always go back to your most important motivators, and hold true to your core values.
Imagine you're on TV. Even in the worst situations in the arena -- especially during the worst situations -- Katniss knows she's being watched by the populace at large. Because of this, she makes sure to show only what will maintain her image (see below).
Not that we actually want to be watched, or recorded, while we do our jobs. But people judge you by actions great and small. Behave as though every action is being broadcast to your superiors, your peers, your clients, your customers, your current and future connections.
Also remember that thanks to both technology and reputation, almost anything we do can make it back around to the decision makers in our world. Everything you do can impact your future -- you just don't know when or how.
Image matters. In "The Hunger Games," image is everything. Katniss knows this. The more afraid she is, the more unruffled she makes sure to come off to her viewers. Losing her cool, or her carefully constructed brave front, will cost her support and respect, Katniss learns early.
What this means for us: Present yourself the way you want to be perceived.
Maximize your strengths. She's not brawny. She's from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks. And she certainly doesn't have any fancy gear or rich sponsors to begin with. But Katniss never forgets what her individual strengths are, and she uses them for all they're worth.
Are you a natural-born networker? A leader in the making? Do you have creative ideas you want to share? Are you organized, well-spoken, a keen observer, good with a spear? Figure this out and let your strengths shine.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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