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Be Your Own Manager

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Modern adults are enthralled with their professional achievements. Professional upward mobility along with job title has become a source of solace for huge numbers of people, so much so that entire social networking mediums exist for people to bombast their professional achievements under the guise of ‘professional networking.’ Entire personal identities are wrapped up in work. In everyday discussions between strangers, particularly men, the question ‘what do you do?’ is often one of the first topics broached. People in general (but especially men in particular) find a bizarre pleasure in self-identifying based on the means they use to accrue currency. This tends to be a function of the managerial sector more so than anything else, as you’ll rarely hear someone bragging about their position as a cashier at Chevron or a drug lord.

The middle management class has grown exponentially over the last hundred years with more and more people acquiring work just slightly above the blue collar laboring class but still well below the affluent upper crust. This group of people is the middle management sector, a group that social economist Henry George once suggested shouldn’t exist at all in industrial society. However, middle managers are critical to greasing the wheels of capitalism. They don’t do any of the work nor do they reap any of the benefits. They are middle men in the truest sense of the word, taking instruction from above and delegating it down. For their role as the buffer between the capitalist uber class and the hourly wage slaves, they typically earn a moderate $50 – $70k, which is plenty to live on but not plenty to live comfortably on.

The strangest evolution of these middle management plebeians is the immense amounts of pride they take in their roles as the intersection between the rich and the poor. Using their titles (and possibly the hubris of whatever tiny amounts of power they do have) they’ve crafted an entire social space of pseudo-elitism based solely on their titles as ‘manager.’ It’s now become a cultural underpinning of managerial society in general to feel proud of the moderate accomplishment of ascending even a few rungs up the proverbial ladder.

But where does this pride come from? Surely none of these people are fulfilling their childhood dream of Restaurant Manager or Human Resources Manager or Operational Excellence Continuous Improvement Lean Manufacturing Line Quality Resource Manager. The titles are stupid, contrived, and completely made up. No child dreams to be a manager. No one does nor should they. If you look around other segments of society for ‘managers,’ what you very often find is a person who’s given a job because they’re not capable of excelling beyond the title of ‘manager.’ In football, quarterbacks who are referred to as ‘game managers’ are often those quarterbacks not entrusted to adequately run a prolific offense and are holding the position only insofar as they don’t severely jack something up. While the other players surrounding them pick up the slack, the ‘game manager’ quarterback hands off the ball, throws short routes, and tries his best not to fuck something up. That’s a game manager.

The typical ability of a manager in a business sense is not that far removed from the ‘game manager’ description of a mediocre-but-not-totally-terrible NFL quarterback. After all, if a business manager in any capacity were truly gifted, they’ve have grown past the title of manager. What you very often find, however, are individuals holding the title of ‘manager’ who are well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s – even up until retirement. Oddly enough, these older managers very commonly express the same inexplicable pride for their jobs as the younger generation of managers. I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me where the esteem in being a 55-year-old Food & Beverage Manager is – I simply cannot understand it.

If you make a quick pass through LinkedIn, you can get a fun visual example of how the simple act of acquiring income as a manager of some aspect of a business has become an entire social subculture based on literally nothing but job title. People of all ages scream their titles from the high heavens at one another, as if to say “I’m somebody.”

So proud of their suspiciously average accomplishments, most of these managers are barely fit to manage their own personal finances, much less drive a successful business while concurrently maintaining morale amongst a group of subordinates. Despite all the fanfare these managers bestow upon themselves and their colleagues for the moderate levels of success they’ve achieved, most are quite literally incapable of running efficient departments, motivating their staff, driving revenue, or (most importantly) keeping their upward mobility moving. They’re stuck as managers – most of them – forever, and in a bizarre twist of professional irony, they seem entirely okay with it.

Because the simple act of being called ‘manager’ now carries with it a unique prestige, people seem content with occupying this category and serving out years and years in these roles. They’ll couch it in different terms, perhaps as an act of emotional comfort for themselves, by saying they’re building experience, strengthening their resume, or acquiring seniority in their company. Those who find themselves unable to advance professionally will say they’re focusing on family or they’ll lie outright, saying that they are actually happy in their jobs and do not want to advance. This is the most dangerous realization for the management class – when they realize they’ve hit their ceiling and instead of pushing forward in a different direction, they’ll use happiness as a justification to explain why they’ve been a Hiring Manager for twelve years. No manager is happy as a manager in the same capacity for years on end, do not believe these people.

More importantly, do not believe these people, the ones who populate the sick LinkedIn demographic, that suggest being a manager at any level is a position of prestige and should be desired. Working in a management capacity should be a last-ditch avenue for those who have totally failed to achieve their dreams. There is nothing more tragic than seeing bright and intelligent young people of conscious who pursue higher education in the fields of business management, human resource administration, or hospitality, but that’s a post for another day.

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