Be the Agitator

Why Are You Driving Your Kids to School?
A Tale of Fear, Reverse FOMO and Conquest

Be-the-Agitator-Shake-It-UpWhile walking across the parking lot after work recently, a colleague asked me how my day went.

I don’t normally write about work specifically. It’s a dangerous line to cross. In fact, I have many, many interesting things to say that would probably get me into varying degrees of trouble, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. Except today. This needs to be said.

I am deliberately choosing to be an agitator for others.

“What on earth do you mean?”

Well, I picked up the term and the concept from a fantastic blog I read called Our Next Life. Tanja and Mark describe the concept that as you become more financially independent, you become less tied to your job with a ball and chain. This in turn gives you the freedom to take more risks because the ultimate consequence of losing your job is not nearly as big of a deal anymore. And even more specifically, their intention is that those risks are taken to improve your workplace and the world in ways that others might be fearful to tackle.

In my particular case, I’ve already written about how I enjoy my job, but don’t see myself working until the standard retirement age of 65 or so. Although still a fair way out, we are definitely on a solid path towards financial independence, which really just means the point at which we will work because we want to, not because we have to.

To be crystal clear, though, I DO want to keep my job. And I will continue to work hard at doing a great job for my employer. But I am now going to use my position in the company and in life to specifically and deliberately agitate for others. It’s the right thing to do.

Let’s step back now.

A Conversation with a Coworker

Ready-to-Fight-with-Sword-and-Blue-SkySo there I was walking to my car on that cold but sunny January afternoon. And I answered the question: “Today was a fighting day. I fought a lot today.” My colleague knows me enough to understand that I’m not talking about yelling or screaming or punching or kicking. I was clearly referring to professionally trying to solve a big, persistent problem.

His answer took me off guard: “Were you attacking or defending?”

I paused. And that’s exactly the moment when I realized that I already was an agitator for others at work. I was attacking laziness, incompetence and poor processes. As I wrote previously, laziness and incompetence are prevalent in our society and follow you through work, volunteerism, contractual obligations, etc. And it drives me nuts! It’s all around. You simply can’t escape it. And it is easily perpetuated by poorly designed processes.

In my case, there was one particular issue that I most certainly will not describe here that was driving many people to the brink. And so I started to attack it head on. It could be a long and difficult path to make meaningful improvements in this area, but I will persevere for the greater benefit of the company and my colleagues.

Alright, that’s enough about me for now. I’m no special warrior or freedom fighter. But I am hoping to inspire you to join me and shake things up for the better in whatever situation you find yourself in.

Here are some thoughts on how to do just that.

What Makes You Angry?

Start with what makes you angry. What do you vent about with your colleagues, friends, or spouse? This is probably an area that you feel passionate about. So quit your complaining and channel your anger into meaningful, purposeful and deliberate change (dot ca!).

Quit your complaining and channel your anger instead.

Perhaps this means taking on new projects at work, either officially or as little side jobs to drive improvement. This could easily fall into categories such as processes, customer-focus, technology development, workplace safety or corporate culture. Or perhaps you’re more driven towards social and political causes such as equality, fairness, poverty, distracted driving, and the like.

Depending on how strongly you feel, you might even consider taking on a larger cause outside of work. Perhaps you want to push it so far that you take a sabbatical or even quit your 9-5 to pursue your “new(?)” passion full-time (paid or otherwise), albeit that is a pretty dramatic and noble step.

But what if you’re nowhere close to financial independence and you’re concerned about losing your job? If you are truly an agent for positivity and putting the company and its clients’ interests first, then you probably have nothing to fear. Sometimes those two seem diametrically opposed, but they truly are aligned if you are aiming for long term sustainability and mutual benefit.

Rabbit Trail Alert: Customers and Culture

I’d like to take a little rabbit trail now and pick on two particular areas of interest to me: customer-focus and corporate culture.

Customer-focus seems to be tossed around a lot these days. But need I remind us all that the customer takes on many faces? As I wrote about recently, my customer means anybody I’m doing a task for, be they a co-worker, boss, neighbour, volunteer, business client, etc. Yes, you obviously have to keep the product’s end-user in mind as the ultimate customer. But when it comes to putting the customer first, always remember who your customer is.

Always remember who YOUR customer is.

Secondly, I was reminded recently about the Netflix culture manifesto. If you haven’t read it, you can do so here (original version) or here (updated version). Love it or hate it, there are some fantastic concepts within that really point toward developing a great culture. Things like openness and honesty, trust and accountability. Obviously there are some other concepts that might not be applicable to all businesses, but read it and pick the elements that you like.

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Lead Where You Are

If I could say one final thing about being an agitator for others, it would be this: Lead where you are.

You don’t need a fancy title, a corner office with a window or a collection of direct reports to be a leader. To be a leader, you need to create influence for positive change. And that happens right where you are: in your current role, with your current circle.

If you think you have no influence, you are simply incorrect. Everybody has influence to at least some degree. If you really want to be an agitator for others, you need to identify your gifts and talents and then apply them within your sphere of influence. And then as you achieve hopefully ever-increasing wins, your sphere and influence within it will grow. But don’t get discouraged if it takes some time. If you’re not failing at least occasionally, then it’s too easy and you’re not pushing hard enough.

So push hard. Be the agitator for others and make our workplaces and our world a better place.

Pencil with ShadowYour Turn Now!

What makes you angry? And I mean really angry? Have you ever channelled that anger into making tangible improvements? Please share and encourage others to do the same!

Why Are You Driving Your Kids to School?
A Tale of Fear, Reverse FOMO and Conquest

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