Last night I heard another story of a person working for close to 30 years for a large, international company only to be let go when the going got tough. That’s right, this person dedicated almost 30 years of their life, gave up vacation time to take conference calls, and worked excessively long hours only to be discarded in an unpleasant and hurtful way.
Sadly, this isn’t a unique story. We all know of a story like this. And when we hear such a story, it can be quite unnerving. Aren’t we told from a young age that if we work hard, we will reap the rewards? That the early bird gets the worm? These stories make us question this very simple equation that we have been operating on since grade school.
When we hear such stories we are reminded of the simple and somewhat important fact that we’re replaceable at work. We’re reminded there will always be someone smarter, harder-working, and better at the work we’ve been doing for 30 years. Or we’re reminded that our employer is a big jerk. Regardless of what we’re reminded, it’s an important (and of course sad) lesson to learn because while we may be replaceable at work, we’re not at home. We are not replaceable to our partner, pets, mom, dad, children, and friends. We are an important part of the operation of their lives and without us, things wouldn’t return to baseline; life would be forever different without us.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a post to downplay the importance of ambition and career goals. I have many a career goal and plan to work very hard over the next few decades of my life. Yet, I’m always going to keep this in the back of my mind. I’m going to remember this when things become too much. I’m going to remember that some people actually do die from work and many become permanently injured (whether mentally or physically). I’m going to remember such consequences would have a profound impact on the people closest to me. I encourage you to remember as well.
Thus, while it can be unnerving to realize you will always be replaceable at work, it’s also quite liberating. It frees you from certain lines of thought and allows you to be more aware of what’s really important and what you want out of life. I encourage you to take time and think about this.