If you’re a member of Generation X, I have a hunch it will take you less than three seconds to recognize the slice of movie transcript below. If not, click here to watch the movie clip live (warning: contains mild foul language…)
Merlin: “C’mon, let’s get back in the game, Maverick!”
Maverick: “Nah, it’s no good.”
Merlin: “Get in there, Maverick!”
Maverick: “It’s no good.”
Navy Commander: “Damn it, Maverick’s disengaging!”
Merlin: “Get in there Maverick, you can’t leave him! Come on, Maverick!”
Maverick: “Talk to me, Goose!”
Merlin: “Get in there, for Chrissake! Ice is in trouble! You can’t leave him!”
Maverick: “Talk to me, Goose!”
Merlin: “Get in there Maverick, he won’t last down there alone! Get in the fight!”
(Maverick gazes intently at his fallen comrade’s dogtags; seems to see/hear something from “beyond”…)
Navy Lieutenant: “Maverick’s re-engaging, sir!”
The point of all this? This famous scene from Top Gun pops into my head several times each day, every time a client tells me (which happens a lot) that they are fed up with the corporate world, sick of the politics, and thoroughly burnt out on the rat race and all its trappings. Each time I hear this, I instantly flash back to Tom Cruise, the crackerjack fighter pilot who suddenly loses his nerve — and is afraid to go into combat — due to the tragic death of his navigator several months previously during a training exercise. Luckily, for the sake of his fellow pilots (and the plot of the movie) it only takes Tom 10 seconds of intense soul-searching before he regains his composure, re-enters the fight, and mops up the enemy in short order!
Would that it were this easy for job seekers. For many people, it can take weeks, months, or even a lifetime to overcome some of the emotional scars that can occur as the result of unexpected job loss. I’ll never forget one client of mine, in fact, who I was catching up with over coffee, a full year after I’d worked with her following the loss of her position as a hospital executive. Everything seemed to be going well and she’d moved on to a promising new opportunity, but when I asked “Do you keep in touch with any of your former co-workers from XYZ Hospital?” she instantly burst into tears, clearly still affected by the circumstances of how the departure from her previous organization had taken place. What’s more, she kept apologizing to me through her tears saying “I don’t know why I’m crying! I thought I was over all this…”
So clearly, as much as some people adopt a stiff upper lip and pretend otherwise, there’s a grieving process that always takes place when it comes to the loss of a job — even in cases when the transition is voluntary. The problem (from my annoyingly pragmatic standpoint) is that most people can’t afford to grieve these wounds indefinitely or “take as much time as they need” to heal, process things, and come to peace with what’s happened to them. Most individuals out of work, at least the ones I encounter, have little choice but to get back on the horse and focus on re-entering the corporate world sooner, rather than later, due to financial concerns. They can’t indulge themselves by thinking they’re going to be able to find a job, or a new place of employment, where they’ll be immune from politics and won’t run into some of the same frustrations, challenges, ethical issues, or bureaucracy that cropped up in their last position.
Over 80% of all jobs in this country, after all, involve working in the private sector where predictable bottom-line profit concerns tend to be the root cause of most of the shenanigans that working professionals complain about. Additionally, in my experience, corporate politics are really nothing more than an inescapable side-effect of people working with other people — so you’re going to run into these no matter what you do, even if you try to chart an escape route into academia, the public sector, or the non-profit world. Just ask anybody who’s been there!
So from my standpoint, short of the self-employment route (which isn’t a practical option for many people) I tend to suggest that time-sensitive job seekers learn to read the warning signs of a truly toxic work culture, in advance, or focus on acquiring better strategies and coping mechanisms for handling conflict and corporate B.S. when it arises. But I find the concept of “disengagement” itself to be a dangerous thing. I don’t care if you end up clutching dogtags, like Maverick, or coming up with your own rituals and remedies for relieving the sting of your last job experience, it’s important to get past that stage — and get back in the game!