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Freedom: Just Another Word or a Way of Life?

Author in Residence  |  by Peter Weddle
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
There's been a lot of attention paid to freedom lately. Jonathan Franzen's new book with that title has made a big splash, of course. And, there's been much debate about the freedom of a group to place a mosque next to the 9/11 site in New York City and the freedom of a pastor to burn copies of the Koran.

But what exactly is freedom, anyway?

We live in a nation that fancies itself "the land of the free and the home of the brave," so I suppose all of us have at least a minimal understanding of the concept. What's often missing, however, is an equal level of understanding of how freedom happens.

You aren't free if you live in a free nation. Not really. You may enjoy the benefits of freedom in such a happy situation, but you aren't being free. You see, freedom is a noun achieved with a verb. In other words, you have to exercise your freedom in order truly to be free.

In a democracy, that means caring enough to vote, to participate in the governance of the nation. In a career, exercising one's freedom means caring enough to act on your own behalf, to participate in the governance of your career.

A recent poll by Time magazine found that over two-thirds of Americans don't think their fellow countrymen and women are meeting their citizenship responsibilities. Sadly, more than a few Americans are also falling short in meeting their obligation to their careers.

Becoming an Active Citizen of the Workplace

As you know if you've been following our journey through my book Work Strong, we can either be the master of our career or its victim. There are no other choices. And, the only way to take charge of your career is to acquire the skills and knowledge of effective career self-management. That expertise enables you to act on your own behalf and to do so in a way that serves your best interests.

I see that kind of "career activism" beginning to happen in the posts on the HigherEdJobs blog. People are asking their peers about this tack in the higher education field or that one, about working for a for-profit university or building a career around adjunct positions, for example. If we've learned anything at all in the aftermath of the Great Recession, it's that such individual initiative is the only form of renewable energy that we can count on today.

There's another factor to this dynamic, however, that we should also recognize. I address it in the final three exercises of the Career Fitness regimen:
· Work with winners
· Stretch your soul
· Pace yourself.

The common thread that runs through those three activities is an acceptance of the fragility of our freedom. Though guaranteed in our nation's founding documents, it is not invulnerable or inevitable. Therefore, we must protect our freedom by working only for employers that respect our talent, by sharing our talent with our community and our planet, and by calibrating the use of our talent for a lengthy (and satisfying) career. Taking those three steps is as much a part of building a healthy career as attaining an advanced degree or being published in your field.

Thanks for reading,
Peter Weddle's book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, has been called the What Color is Your Parachute? for the 21st century. It explores what it takes to achieve and sustain career success in the modern American workplace.

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