A Guide For Grown Ups

A little over fifty years ago, a young American president stood in front of the United States Congress to give his inaugural address, exhorting the crowd to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That famous quote – attributed variously to Kahlil Gibran, Cicero, General Omar Bradley or Milton Friedman, depending on who you talk to – is now a part of our shared history. It was a rallying call to a new era of responsible citizenship, one in which our participation is required if we want a different experience of the world we live in. These are not “liberal” or “conservative” values, but a belief in the simple idea that as adults, we each have an obligation to pull our own oar.

Being an adult at work means that we bring conscious choice and awareness to our responsibilities. And I believe the future of work demands that we all need to grow up a bit. During my years as a recruiter, and now as an executive coach, I have seen behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in the playground, somehow pass for “normal” in the boardroom. I’ve seen passive aggressive behavior, as well as “active” aggressive behavior: temper tantrums, tossed tables and chairs (as well as the odd tossed Caesar salad). “Oh, but she’s under a lot of stress!” “He’s juggling a lot of things at home!” Well, guess what? We’re all under a lot of stress. But getting people to stop treating you like a child means that you have to stop acting like one.

I recently conducted a workshop with my friend and fellow coach, Jerry Colonna, where we spoke to a number of executive leaders on this very subject. A lot of these young companies are in an early development phase, and there are tensions and growing pains associated with that. But so many people, in avoidance of individual responsibility, throw up their hands and say, “Well, this problem was caused by somebody else, not me, therefore it’s up to him to solve it.” No great company, or country, was ever built on this faulty premise. Hence, we have the “new” rules for Grown Ups.

No Whining

Just as Tom Hanks famously declared, “There’s no crying in baseball!” There is to be no whining at work. Are there people who enjoy certain advantages over you? Of course there are. Some people are born on third base and think they hit a triple. “But it’s not fair,” you wail. Well, life’s not fair either. Complainers are always making some kind of excuse for why things aren’t working out the way they should. Sometimes they will have elaborate and highly “logical” reasons for this. But complainers are rarely successful. You have to be a doer instead. Take all of the latent energy that you put into moaning and divert that into positive forward momentum. Audit your output for one day, and see where you’re putting your mental energy. If you’re complaining more than you are doing, then it’s time for a tune-up.

Clean Up the Mess (Even if You Didn’t Make It)

How many times have you heard someone say, “Don’t look at me, that’s not my job!” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else is going to figure it out for us. Yet this simple irascible fact is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. If there is something that you have the capacity to fix, that will improve working conditions for you and others around you, then it is your responsibility to do something about it. Don’t wait for them to do it, do it for yourself! Gandhi said we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.” If you see an opportunity where you can positively impact your situation (without infringing on others’ freedom), then do it. And don’t look for accolades. Instead notice how you tend to like yourself more when you choose to act in an adult way.

No Blaming Others

The moment you apportion blame away from yourself and onto someone else, you give away your power. You’ll often hear it in the rationalizing phrase: “But I can’t do X because of Y.” People find it amazing when I point out to them, that by and large, where they find themselves is often the result of an earlier decision they’ve made. We are the authors of our lives, and until we realize this, we will always blame someone else for what is or isn’t working about it. When things don’t go your way, instead of protesting and complaining “Why me?” instead ask yourself, “Now what?” This is a giant step into adulthood because our focus is on how we can move on with our life, not on how immobilized we are as victims.

Being an adult isn’t easy, especially in the world of work where things may not always go as we would like. But by taking personal responsibility for our choices, we grow and act in ways that we can be proud of. The extent to which we avoid taking responsibility for those choices, is the extent to which our lives and relationships will remain dysfunctional.

Your life is not what the stars, your boss, genetics or the economy decide it will be. It is what you decide it will be.