Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

What Can We Learn About Layoffs From the Story Of Abraham In The Bible?

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity

In the last post, Janet solidified her identity as a people-first person (as opposed to a company-first person) only after she was laid off from her job.  The company culture was difficult, and put a high premium on putting the company first.  The story of Abraham in the Bible also starts with a journey.  Abraham leaves a society of idol worshippers, starting a journey into the wilderness. Abraham leaves at God’s command, which on the surface seems like very different circumstances than a layoff.  Hold that thought while we return to Abraham’s backstory, which is captured in the Talmud, a collection of stories and commentary that fills in the gaps in the Torah (aka the Five Books of Moses in the Old Testament.)

I shared the Talmud story of Abraham smashing the idols in his father’s shop at the start of Chapter 2.  These clay statues played a central role in Sumarian life.  To challenge idolatry was to challenge a foundational element of the culture, and by extension the power of King Nimrod. When Abraham was brought to court to explain, he did not back away from his central message.  “If you are so wise, King Nimrod, why do you worship gods made by human hands, and why do you call yourself a god when one day you will die like all men made of flesh and blood?”[i]  (You can read the whole story here.)

Nimrod proceeds to jail Abraham for a year without food and water, and then to throw him into a fiery furnace, both of which Abraham survived through divine intervention.  Let’s for the sake of argument, say that this is an allegory and not literally true.  How then, did Abraham survive, in an era thousands of years ago when the rule of the king was absolute, and “dead bodies floated along the Euphrates.?”[ii]  In my opinion, it is because Abraham was teaching a set of values that gained a following.  Rather than create a martyr, maybe Nimrod sent Abraham and his followers into exile.  It was only later reported that Abraham left of his own accord, to  “spend more time with his family.”

What does this say about Abraham’s identity?

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[i] The Classic Tales: 4000 Years of Jewish Lore by Ellen Frankel. Jason Aronson Inc (1993) P 54-56.

[ii] The Gifts Of The Jews by Thomas Cahill Anchor Books (1998) p. 93

The Network: Insurance Against a Layoff

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 12 

In the last post, we met Janet Wolf, the power mom who set clear expectations with her managers that she would have time contraints and would always get her work done.  And she remained connected to her kids activities while consistently getting to do “bigger and better things” in her career.

Janet is a Wolf, someone who is concerned with both the success of the organization and the welfare of the people she works with. (see this post from Chapter 4 for more on Wolves.)  And like Harry Lobo, she found herself in a difficult political environment.  Janet described it as “ten smart guys at the top” who seemed to think that everyone else was “dispensable.”

Janet’s last manager at that company had “no desire to spend any time on talent management.  [His attitude was] ‘Get it done or else you suck and get out of here.’”  This was difficult for Janet, because her values put her priorities in a different place.  Janet thought that developing people was the key to successful long term success of the company.  And her network, both professional and personal, was huge, which was critically important after an unexpected layoff after five years.  Janet’s comments, which she shared with me a month after the layoff, illustrate how her identity quickly shifted.

“These people don’t value me, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not valued.  Your identity is so tied up with a company and a role but then you realize that you are above all that.  It doesn’t matter that you may or may not be affiliated with a company right now.  It’s been an interesting awakening for me, to realize that.  I’ll be ok.  Yes, I do want to do something exciting next but its ok if it takes a while.  It took a week for me to come to [figure this out].  I got so many calls and emails from friends.”

And given the size of her network, it didn’t surprise me that Janet soon had another position that she described to me as her “dream job.”

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