BEWARE THE PROMISED LAND: politics, job searching, throwing punches and Chuck Berry

Election Blog

Change is a good thing – but not for its own sake, and not at the expense of what we believe is a good idea.

The general election here in the UK is on Thursday 8th June and many will be happy to see the back of the TV debates, polling updates, negative advertising and a seemingly never-ending quest for soundbites and headlines – and I’m no different. However I have found one thing about this campaigning period particularly interesting; it has reconfirmed the power of promises. 

They might be empty, genuine, well-intentioned or with some malice behind them. They might well be broken later or completely fulfilled – but fundamentally the offer of hope and the offer of a bright future is extremely powerful stuff – especially to someone who doesn’t have much of either.

The dangers of ‘The Promised Land’ can be summed up nicely in two of my favourite songs with that very title; Chuck Berry’s rock n’ roll classic is upbeat about ‘the poor boy’ taking a life-changing road trip and landing in the perfect place at the end. Bruce Springsteen’s version is more downbeat, intense and hard to work out.

If you just go for the headline, you don’t know which version you might end up with.

This is by no means an indication of where I stand on the political spectrum or who I will be voting for on Thursday, but more than ever during this election build-up it seems evident how easy it is to promise the world when you’re not in a position of power and, conversely, how difficult it is to engage in those debates when you have an actual record to defend.

There are no U-Turns when you’ve never had to make a meaningful decision. The challenger only needs to attack, and then make grand promises about how they’ll make things better.  The belt holder needs to somehow throw punches while keeping their guard up the whole time.

I thought Theresa May was right to stay away from the TV debates; 7 people standing on a stage shouting across each other, desperately trying to get the headline the next morning does not make for particularly adult or reasoned political discussion. Also, when only one of the seven is from the government, it regularly ends up in a 6 vs 1 slanging match.

It might seem crass to draw parallels with job searching – but as a head hunter I can’t escape those instincts, and there are clear similarities.

Change for change’s sake

I guess I’m supposed to promote the idea of leaving your current employer – but change just for the sake of changing is usually a misguided attempt at finding that perfect scenario and it most often doesn’t leave you in a better position. Change for change’s sake is a strand of thinking which results in a highly unpredictable President in the US, extreme right wing contenders in France, Holland, Austria and elsewhere, and very left wing options in various places too.

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken with who have found themselves in the wrong job – either because they made a change for the sake of changing, or because an organisation (or recruiter) promised them some nirvana situation to solve all of their problems.

We all probably wish our situation was at least slightly better than it is, but our reasoning behind how we improve that needs to stay as logical and sensible as ever. Picking something or someone because it’s non-traditional or offering a different path is fine – but not at the expense of what actually matters to you for your career, or what you believe is needed in your local or national community.

I think most promises are well intentioned. I don’t believe any potential new employer – or indeed your existing one – actually want you to make a bad career choice. If they make you big promises they are most likely aspirational if not a current reality.

Also, I don’t think any of the mainstream political leaders here in the UK sit up in some dark tower stirring a pot and cooking up nasty or evil schemes to keep homeless people on the street, or make sure the disabled have no assistance, or indeed support the idea of bombing people to further a cause. None of them has a monopoly on wanting a better, fairer society – it’s just the approach in how we get there that differs.

As Chuck and Bruce have shown, everyone has a different version of The Promised Land.


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