A Lesson in Leading People

The doorbell startled us. Late night guests are not common in our quiet neighborhood. I opened the door cautiously and saw two men bundled in snow gear. Before the door even cracked, one man interjected, “Listen, we don’t want any trouble, but we’re in a rough spot and just looking for some honest work. You need someone to clear your sidewalk?”

The biggest snow storm of the year hit Denver that morning—and brought with it a lesson in differentiating good from great.

Sixteen inches of powder heaped up in our yard and barricaded the cars lining our street. The duo at my doorstep averted eye contact, snow shovels poised at their sides. They pitched their snow removal services. After a brief negotiation, we shook on the deal and I returned inside to find cash, feeling quite pleased with my actions.


When opportunity presents itself, I love hiring folks. It breathes of dignity to provide a fair wage for hard work. I stepped outside and paid the men, quickly stepping back into the warmth of our home. But looking across the living room, I saw Alli rushing to heat a pot of water.

“It’s freezing outside, Chris,” she said. “Let’s at least share a cup of hot chocolate.”

Later that month, I visited Steve and Jim, two friends who lead a small manufacturing business in north Denver. Sandwiched between a rail yard and tire depot, their nondescript warehouse looks much less remarkable than what takes place inside. While touring their facility, they explained how their team converts stacks of sheet metal—what looked like an oversized stack of paper—into massive fans that improve the efficiency of machinery.

They shared about the steel-and-rivets nature of their business, but it was clear their success had little to do with metal fabrication. They succeeded because of how they cared for their people. With an average tenure of 15 years, this warehouse acted more like second home than a factory.

“My dad had a simple philosophy when he started this business,” Steve said. “‘Let’s pay people well, give them great benefits and really get into their lives.’”

When Steve and Jim talked about the men that worked on the shop floor, their energy intensified. They liked manufacturing, but they loved their people. The hard-nosed crewmen roaming the warehouse floors were not just workers. To Steve and Jim, they were friends, peers, and fathers.

Jim summarized their leadership approach:

“Here’s what we believe: Walk beside the foul-mouthed. Treat them well. Invest in their lives over a long period time …and watch what happens.”

And over time, great things did happen because of how they militantly defended their culture of dignity and respect. They didn’t use gimmicks to achieve organizational excellence. They just remained fastened to treating people right. And the results told a story: Business was good, work wasn’t just for the weekend, and their people thrived.

Steve and Jim operate by a simple premise: The best way to do business is to hire hard workers and unleash them to use their abilities. But their special sauce is how they care. And that’s what I missed with the shovelers. Paying them for snow removal was fine, but it was the cup of hot chocolate that made it great. When we shared the warm beverages with our late-night guests, a smile lit up their faces, starkly contrasting with the cold night air. A sincere drink of worth for two men parched for it.

Originally posted at SmorgasblurbRead more about Steve and Jim’s business in this profile at Christianity Today.

Where Do You Thrive?

If you’re not thriving, you’re dying.

Somebody once told me that some sharks die if they stop swimming. Somebody else told me that when a seed stops growing, it dies.

If you’re not thriving, you’re dying.

How to Thrive

We’ve all been there, right? Life is dragging on like a dead leg and there’s little we can do about it because of our present circumstances. Maybe it’s a girl you just can’t seem to cut loose. Maybe it’s the wrong career. Maybe it’s your friendships.

As I prepared to finish college, my life was at a crossroads. I had seen the potential glories of what God was doing in my life, but I was hindering his mission because I couldn’t let go of my damaging friendships. These were people I loved. People whom I made tremendous memories with during our college years. But these were also people who were “me oriented” and consistently negative.

They always say (whoever “they” is), that you are who you surround yourself with. Isn’t that the truth. I wanted more than good–––I wanted God’s best–––but I couldn’t get it. I was too busy being equally negative by assimilation that I couldn’t see what God was doing right in front of me.

After awhile and some tough decisions, those friends floated away and new ones took their place (the circle of friends continues). Like it or love it, these new friends put me in a position to thrive.

Welcome to Thrive City

In order to thrive, we need to be in an environment that allows us to thrive. What’s your environment?

Lately, my environment has been the city library. I love it. The wi-fi is good and I can see all of downtown from any of my favorite fourth floor windows.

When you’re in a library, you get to be a small fish in a giant pond, surrounded by thousands of published works by people who are/were the premiere thought-creators in their field. To me, the library says, “There’s so much knowledge in here to go around. Grab some.”

So I do. I’ll write a few emails. Then grab a book. Work for a few hours. Then grab another. In a few moments, I’ll pick up the book sitting next to me, Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin. I might read a chapter or the entire thing, but my goal is to live outside of the knowledge that’s currently housed within my brain.

If you’re not thriving, you’re dying.

Where Do You Thrive?

So where do you thrive? The library has been working for me lately. For you, it might be Tom Sawyer Island. It might be your office that has the comfy couch for napping keeping clients comfortable. We’d love to hear about it, so let us know in the comments below.

Freely Given, Apathetically Received

Timothy Kayera spoke with been-there-done-that confidence. He grew stronger with each word, pulling me closer with the fire of his conviction. And then he summarized everything I believe about charity. In four words.

I used to work with one of those organizations that gave stuff away to everyone. We’d give away animals, clothing and clean water. All for free. I remember when we’d give goats to people, I would get phone calls and they’d say, “Timothy, your goat is dead.”

Your goat is dead. I’ve tried to articulate this idea dozens of times over the years, but never this potently. In four words, the caller said:

  • It was never his goat in the first place,
  • It was inconsequential it died, and
  • It was Timothy’s job to replace it.

Kayera is a star in Rwanda’s promising cast of young leaders. He directs HOPE’s efforts in a region of Rwanda and he emphasized the difference of his new job. His work now creates dignity, not dependency. Partnership, not pity. Timothy joins a chorus of Rwandans in this song, from the president of the country to “Rwanda’s Desmond Tutu.”

[The poor] are as capable, as competent, as gifted, and as talented as anyone else…In society, you must create opportunities to help people develop their capacity and talents. – Paul Kagame

We need to move from aid to production, from existing to living. It’s high time we stop telling our people they can’t do it. They can, yes. And we shall do it. – Bishop John Ruchyahana

Timothy, President Kagame and Bishop Ruchyahana share this opinion: Traditional charity erodes the nature of people and the fabric of society. When giveaways permeate, they communicate a clear message: What you lack, I provide. Where you are weak, I am strong. When you can’t, I can. It’s a bad message, preventing people from hearing the better message from their Creator:I made you to make. I designed you to design. You are blessed to bless others. When charity runs its course—as it has in many places in Rwanda, Haiti and elsewhere—it lures the poor with handouts and traps them on unneeded life support. But that’s why Timothy got out of that business. He saw its destructive path and cut the cord before it strangled.

Today he anchors his work on who people are created to be and what we are designed to do. He doesn’t lure with goodies. Instead, he demands hard work from those he serves. People like Rachel. I saw the future of Rwanda in her. Rachel showed me the house she built and the 16 pigs she purchased over the past two years. She showed me the litters of piglets she’s bred and the piles of fertilizer she sells. But Rachel isn’t filling her barns for herself. I asked her what her dreams are and she said, “The greatest joy of these pigs is that I am now able to share with my church and with others.”


Rachel


Rachel didn’t beg for cash or stoop in compliance. She stood tall as a confident merchant, wife and mother. She did not avert her gaze. Her eyes were strong and generous. Rachel wasn’t the product of charity. She simply knew who she was created to be.

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Christian Shoddy is Still Shoddy

A tense cloud hovered above the desk that separated us. Meeting in an aging office building in a small Romanian town,  Dorian articulated a troubling reality about his organization: Nobody liked it.

I was in Romania to find a good microfinance organization. Friends of HOPE funded an exploratory trip to determine whether Romania would be a good place for us to expand. With a presence nearby in Ukraine, Russia and Moldova; Romania was a natural next step for our expansion. Traveling the country by train for three months, I met with dozens of leaders to learn more about the needs of entrepreneurs  and about the current resources that were available to them in their country. It was largely encouraging, but my meeting with Dorian gave me pause.

Dorian aired many grievances about his clients. His organization planned business training sessions and no clients show up. They offered business loans, but very few paid them back. They offered consulting services, but nobody was buying. Their clients didn't like or value their products. That reality would normally prompt sympathy from me, not frustration. But I felt much more of the latter because of his closing remarks:

We're sad that nobody is showing up for our training sessions or paying back their loans, but you know, we're telling them about Jesus. And that's all that truly matters.

Dorian's comments contained a semblance of truth. I believe wholeheartedly that we need to share Jesus with those we serve. And in that light, Dorian's enthusiasm about the gospel is admirable. But that's where my agreement with him stops.

Slapping an ichthus on a jug of spoiled milk does not honor God. Searing a cross on a hamburger doesn't make it taste like filet mignon. I don't care how "Christian" your school is; if all your students fail, I'm not sending my kid there. We serve a God who created an earth that holds its axis and planets that hold their orbit. God articulated a breathtaking and precise blueprint for his tabernacle. And our God instructs us to do likewise, commanding we do our work with excellence.

 

 

Dorian spoke as if creating a substandard product was honoring to God simply because of the words he spoke. But Christian shoddy is still shoddy. Our creator demonstrated superb taste and strong attention to detail in his craftsmanship. When we ignore the needs of our customers, treat them with disdain and "ichthus-wash" it with spirituality, we do not reflect the full nature of our creator.

 

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.
Photo: 
Johan Koolwaaij

Rags to Riches and Back to Rags Again

I love a good rags-to-riches story.

Sam “Walmart” Walton sold magazines and milked cows in small-town Oklahoma before building the world’s biggest company. Howard Schultz forged his place in American folklore by brewing the coffee shop movement after a hand-to-mouth childhood in Brooklyn’s worst neighborhood. They each made the leap from obscurity to prominence. Mired in adversity, they clawed their way to triumph. But it is a grand charade to suggest that riches alone are better than rags.

Success is a fickle concept.

We treat it like a GPS destination. Kick the car in gear, turn right at the T, and pull into the driveway after the rusty garage. Follow this route and you will surely arrive. But success looks nothing like a script. And it can be deceiving. He had everything a man could want or imagine, I muse. But with success, you can’t know it when you see it.

 

“I’ve gone from village to palace,” exclaimed Ashok Khade.

Born in a mud hut without much food, Ashok’s childhood was like a very long walk up a very steep hill. As part of the “untouchables” caste, the lowest of Indian classes, his future was destined to look like his father’s—a grueling life spent cleaning sewers or sweeping streets. But Ashok’s story unfolds just like Sam Walton’s. He studied hard, worked tirelessly and bootstrapped his oil business into a $100M Indian powerhouse.

Ashok arrived. He traded in his rickshaw for a beamer. The oil tycoon now stays at 5-star hotels, adorns his mother with opulent gold jewelry and makes deals with sheiks from Abu Dhabi. The journalist pronounced Ashok’s concluding verdict: “The untouchable boy had become golden, thanks to the newest god in the Indian pantheon: money.”

From a mud shack to the presidential suite, Ashok followed the roadmap to success. And he arrived. He now revels in his wealth, indulging in the finest of luxuries, hoarding his wealth and “living the dream.” But, Ashok has simply gold-plated the chains of poverty.

Ashok should listen to the sage advice of his forbearer. John Rockefeller, also a peasant-turned-oilman, bemoaned, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” At the peak of his success, Rockefeller topped the charts as the wealthiest person in the world. He had no equal. If success were a map, he would be the mapmaker. But, Rockefeller mourned what we are afraid to admit: Success has nothing to do with prosperity. You can indulge in every luxury and still hate waking up in the morning.

Yet we keep peddling the empty promise that a life of prosperity will soothe the wounds of the heart. It won’t. Rockefeller knew it and it shouldn’t surprise Ashok that his newfound riches are like whitewashed tombs.

There is a rags-to-riches story I love more than the rest, however. It is a story of a poor shepherd boy abandoned by his brothers and sold into the hands of a royal Egyptian family. Thrown in jail for years, the poor farmhand persevered and wrote his rags-to-riches story, advancing from the fields to the royal suite.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. – Genesis 41:41-43

From sheering sheep to gracing the throne of the modern world, it was in ancient Egypt where we see rags-to-riches in its purest form. Joseph knew he was not blessed simply to surround himself with frond-waving servants and Egyptian delicacies. He was blessed to bless. “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (vs. 57) It was from this position of power and wealth that Joseph rescued the whole world on the brink of collapse.

From poverty to generosity: A true rags-to-riches story.
Originally posted at Smorgasblurb

Battling God-Complexes and Idea Makers

I’m reading a book on collaboration and watching myself get so annoyed as I’m reading it that everyone can have good ideas. Artists want to be special, and I want to be special; and they are special, I guess, in the same way that everybody is special.

I think I need to deal with my own reticence to take ideas from other people who I don’t automatically respect. Some of this is actually because I’m sometimes in the wrong room, and I’ve talked my way into rooms that really aren’t a good fit. It’s been interesting in the last year to gather a group of people, or at least individual connections with people, who are much more compatible for me to work with. So for them to have ideas is fine, because I know them, and I get them, and I trust them. But when there’s both an authoritive hierarchy in the room as well as a professional etiquette of rules of engagement, it weirds me out. I don’t feel like I understand the rules, and I don’t know whether or not I have the right to speak. So I ignore everything and just talk, breaking rules, and damaging credibility in the process.

I get annoyed when I watch people who understand the politics of ideas better than I do succeed with ideas that are close but not as good as the best idea on the table because they know how to get them approved faster. And I don’t mean a formal approval. I mean presenting it in such a way that the room has an “ah-ha” moment over an idea that’s essentially second best.

Which bothers me.

Now when I read magazines that talk about all these hugely imaginative public art projects – things like New York’s new high line park system where it’s a completely new way of doing it. And then I think back…in some room, was an inventive genius a partner with a political mouthpiece to get the city to pay for that? Or was that a politician’s idea who pitched that? Was there an even better idea that was run over in the process? And I always feel like the one with the better idea, getting run over.

Back to my first point: I think that’s just ego on my part. And most artists – this is true of me – want to have a little bit of a god-complex. We want complete control and the reverence that comes with being a deity. And the role as creator and caretaker. I’m using Biblical language on purpose, because I think that’s where it comes from.

What God is to this planet, we want to be to this project. And because we’re not omniscient, and all powerful, and infinitely just, and infinitely merciful, that causes problems. Big problems.

When Entrepreneurs Get Betrayed by Their Imagination

I think we artists and entrepreneurs are double crossed by our own imaginations.

We act as though, because we can imagine something, we have the right to pursue it. We seem to think the greater the detail in which we envision something, the more likely it will be successful. And this isn’t a failure of imagination – not in the sense that we fail to be able to imagine it; but our imaginations fails us, because it is so much greater than the reality (which is why we’re blindsided by mediocrity).

 

The two audacious claims of most entrepreneurs and artists are that:

1) There should be this thing; and

2) I should be in charge of it.

That can’t always be true. Sometimes we create things the world doesn’t need (Regretsy, anyone?) but more often, we promote ourselves to incompetence. The sad reality is that, many times there are mid-level professionals that are not internationally talented–––or maybe not even nationally talented. They’re regionally talented. So they could be a really good drama professor at the local university; but instead, they’re going to run their own theater company. And you wind up having nine or ten theater companies in a town of a million, where even if there was just one theater company, you might be able to–––if you added all the budgets together, assuming that they weren’t cannibalizing–––have one viable organization. Instead you have nine starving each other. And I don’t know if that works. Maybe you’re not into theatre… web design, anyone?

 

I’m with some friends, and we’re discussing hosting a new art event, an art festival of sorts. I’m not going to go into too much detail, because we’re still working on it, but very quickly what happens is, we start envisioning. And we have very well developed imaginations. And very gifted people who are running a number of their own projects quite successfully–––passion projects. Somehow or another, by combining all our passion projects, we’re going to be able to pay everyone. I don’t think it works that way. Just because we can envision a theater, and film, and visual art, and story telling, and trans-media, and bloggers, and radio broadcasters, and music videos–––we’re in Nashville, we can throw those in–––that somehow or other if you throw all those together, it is suddenly going to work.

It’s quixotic. We can envision this castle on a cloud that only Don Quixote could see, or that there are these windmills that he was tilting at–––it’s a little bit like that.

Someone who has the ability to envision… “Oh, it’ll be this great restaurant, and it’ll be like this, and it’ll be like this, and it’ll be like this. And I’m gonna put it in this town.” I think there’s two things: 1) Could that town support such a restaurant? And 2) Should such a restaurant be owned by you just because you can envision it? And sometimes there’s a mismatch there as well. And when that happens, you can sort of suffer along with that idea for a while. But at some point you have to say either, “This thing doesn’t fit this time and place,” or “I’m not the guy, or girl, to make this thing work that way.”

I’m not sure everyone sees that, particularly my artist friends who very quickly want to make collaborations out of everything. And I’m not sure that more cooks in the kitchen is better, either. From a financial standpoint, if you’re going to split, now you have to split with everybody. So everybody gets less. And if everybody is doing 90% administration, 1% creation, it feels idealistic and naively short-sighted.

[alert style=”success”]Sound Off: Have you been betrayed by your imagination with starting something new? Are you an entrepreneur or artist that has realized the above? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

8 Savvy Tips for Working from Home

To my pajama-clad comrades, this post is for you.

I began taking the “ten foot commute” over three years ago and since that point, I’ve made consistent upgrades to my remote officing. My cubicle friends salivate over the prospects of trading slacks for sweats and yearn for their personal fridge nearby, but if you’ve ever worked from home, you know it’s not all rainbows and daisies. This list will smooth your transition to your home office or perhaps improve your current arrangement. The work from home toolkit:

 

1. Ditch the instant coffee:

I’m not a barista, but I do like a rich cup of drip coffee. In my early coffee years, the pot roosted on the coffee maker for hours, degrading with each passing minute. I’ve recently transitioned to a carafe, which keeps the coffee hot and the flavor fresh. The more refined coffee aficionado might lean toward French Press or perhaps depend on the Starbucks drive-through.

Either way, demand excellence with your morning beverage.

 

2. Bite the desk chair bullet:

Buying a desk chair is about as much fun as paying taxes. The sticker price always disappoints. But you will not regret the lost Benjamin(s) if you buy a great chair. It makes all the difference that the place you spend dozens of hours weekly supports you well. For the bargain-shoppers like me, let me suggest mine as a great place to start.

Action Step: You can find great desk chairs at Amazon.com.

 

3. Engage all your senses:

My second year working from home was the hardest. In retrospect, I can pinpoint the exact reason why: I worked in a dark corner of our apartment.  As people, natural light is like energy food. Like a napping cat, telecommuters need to situate their desks in the sun beams. Once you find the sun, think through how to fill your office with good tunes and enriching aromatics.

 

4. Invest in sturdy slippers:

Whether you wear sweats–––or believe that dressing professionally is a prerequesite when working at home–––is not a debate I’m touching with this post. What I will say, however, is that a good pair of slippers is a non-negotiable. Acorn is my brand of choice. I’m going on two years with my first pair.

 

5. Keep the blood flowing:

The latest-and-greatest addition to my office is an elliptical machine. For this chronic-pacer, I finally have an appropriate outlet. Because I’m on the phone 10+ hours weekly, this gift from my wife is truly a game-changer. I stride at a manageable cantor and am more engaged on my calls than I am at my desk. Because I now average close 30 minutes of cardio daily, I feel healthier and more alert than I ever did before.

 

6. Battle staleness by changing environments:

Like a algae-infested pond, working from home can make you stagnant. If you never leave the confines of your home, you can easily contract “office fever” (a cousin to cabin fever). I try to work outside of my home at least one day a week. Whether I’m in meetings or just holing up at my favorite coffee shop, a change of scenery keeps things fresh.

 

7. Walk by the virtual “water cooler”:

I’ve found online networks to be a great source of fun. As remote workers, we commiserate when our office friends get snow days, but our biggest beef is with the lack of friendly banter and socializing that happens in the break room. Twitter and Facebook fill parts of that void for me. Through these channels and others (SkypeGchat, etc.), I feel connected to other people.

 

8. Recreate the cubicle:

It must seem odd to read this if you’re a cubicle-dweller. But, sometimes we telecommuters miss working alongside people. Hence the incredible upsurge in “coworking” (Denver) spaces and meetups. I prefer organic coworking over the more formal variety. A few times a month I’ll meet up with fellow telecommuters and we’ll each go about our business beside one another. Perhaps the cubicle is coming full circle.

In addition to these suggestions, I’d also recommend a printer/scanner, a quality laptop bag (or backpack if you’re a biker and/or walker) and a screen protector/mousepad.

[alert style=”success”] Sound Off: Fellow remote office friends: What am I missing? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

An Open Letter to the CEO and President of Costco

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that if you find good people, give them good jobs, and pay them good wages, good things will happen.

– Jim Sinegal, CEO, Costco

Below is a letter I recently sent to Jim Sinegal and Craig Jelinek (CEO and President, respectively) at Costco Corporation, an international chain of membership warehouses. I am publishing this letter publicly because too often the only businesses we hear about are those which are in some way abusive to customers, vendors and/or employees. As you’ll read in the letter and elsewhere, Costco is an absolute world-class business (and they’re not alone!).

[divider]

Dear Mr. Sinegal and Mr. Jelinek,

Throughout the 90s, my older brother Matthew worked part-time at a grocery store. He was punctual, cared for his customers and he completed his work (clearing grocery carts from the parking lot) with excellence. But, the part-time minimum-wage salary, lack of benefits and toxic work environment prevented this job from becoming a career.

When a Costco opened up in our neighborhood (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) in the late 90s; its reputation for treating its employees with dignity preceded it. Matthew applied immediately in hopes of joining the Costco team. A few short months later, Costco took a chance on him. Today, 11 years later, after several promotions, consistent pay increases and with a supportive team around him, Matthew has found his career. The very generous salary and benefits package allow him to enjoy life in a debt-free home in a great neighborhood, within walking distance of Costco.

For his entire life, Matthew has been classified and known by his “special needs”. Since the day he began at Costco, however, his coworkers and customers have valued him because of his unique strengths. There are many companies which “succeed” at the expense of their workers. I am a firsthand witness to a counterintuitive company: Costco succeeds through the flourishing of its employees.

Matthew worked for years in the Costco parking lot (bearing the wind, rain, cold and snow), taking pride when it was free of carts. And, true to the rumors (that Costco promotes from within), he eventually was given the opportunity to work in the warehouse as a cashier’s assistant, supporting customers as they check-out. He absolutely loves his job…and his customers absolutely love him.

Matthew raves about his friends at the eyeglass center, bakery, pharmacy, food court and customer service desk. He always talks about the tire crew members who allow him to park his bike under their watch–and make sure it is tuned and safe to ride. He pays tribute to his many supervisors, each of whom has taken special care to help him succeed. Matthew enthusiastically participates in Costco’s Children’s Miracle Network partnership month, the annual Christmas party, and he recently won an employee Biggest Loser competition (losing over 65 pounds).

Costco has become much, much more than an employer to Matthew. Thank you for giving him a chance. I have always deeply believed that Matthew does not need any handouts — he just needs opportunities to apply his incredibly unique gifts and abilities. The purpose and care with which you approach business has literally changed the course of my brother’s life and has been an unspeakable blessing to him and to our family.

My warmest thanks,

Chris Horst

The Luxury of Working at Taco Bell

Photo: mikebaird

A few months ago, the Denver Post featured an article on the expiration of unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits were bolstered because nearly ten percent of Americans are still unemployed, with no prospects of that number declining significantly anytime soon.

One quote from the article was especially telling. Dianne, a 47-year old human resources professional, shared her own challenge in finding a job. She searched for a job for nine months without finding a position in human resources:

I’m nervous. It means that maybe I’ll have to go down to the local Taco Bell for a job. Maybe I can get food there too.

I understand her nervousness and recognize that it can be frustrating to not find a job directly in your professional sweet spot or educational training. But, Diane’s comment continues to hang with me and agitate me for the following reasons:

  1. The slap-in-the-face she gives to all employees at fast food restaurants, as if their work is “beneath” someone like Diane.

  2. The corrosive cultural shift in our country which neglects to acknowledge that job choice is a luxury.

Reading this comment, I think about my friends in “blue collar” positions, those working in restaurants, construction sites and factories. How would they feel when reading Dianne’s comments? I think about the history of our nation. It is only within the past fifty years that (many) Americans have had the luxury of choosing their career. In the early and mid 20th century, the vast majority of Americans worked wherever they could find a job. The concept of “vocational calling” would have been a reality for only the most elite. If your dad owned a farm — you farmed. If the factory had a job opening — you applied. Job choice in our country has always been a luxury, not a right.

From a global perspective, simply having a stable job, of any sort, is a luxury as well. I think about the hundreds of millions of people around the world who would sacrifice anything for the opportunity to work at Taco Bell. A consistent paycheck, well-lit working conditions, discounted food — that would be one of a highly-coveted job in many places around the world.

Dianne made a simple comment — and one similar to comments I have undoubtedly made in the past. I also recognize I am working in a “dream vocation” currently and I do not want to undermine the challenges job layoffs and unemployment present. It’s brutal. Unemployment is rough and it would be tough for me to leave my cushy office position to go back to working in the concrete business like I did in college. But, I hope that one of the silver linings of this recession is a reminder of what “normal” looks like in the scope of the world and our nation’s history.

[box_help]Sound Off: Were Diane’s comments off-putting? Do you agree with her? Let us know in the comments.[/box_help]