Don’t Become A Career Zombie: How To Survive the Apocalypse

For my last post, I drew on some Halloween inspiration to help you avoid the fate of The Invisible Man in managing your online presence. I promised a second installment to share how a career lesson from the zombie apocalypse of World War Z applies to you. So, read and learn.

Apocalyptic retro poster. Sunset. Grunge background.I love it when I gain perspective from unlikely places! This is probably not so surprising. I’ll bet it’s the same for you.  Yet, for me, the more unlikely the source of insight, the bigger the impact. So, stick with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Lately, I’ve been reading, Max Brooks’ World War Z. What’s amazing is that it has offered what I think is a central lesson for career management, today. Yeah, I know. Zombie war? Career management? You’re probably thinking, “Give me a break!” [Tweet This]

Not A Zombie Crisis But An Economic One

Frankly, needing to survive a zombie crisis is highly unlikely. Yet, we have, for several years, been living through economic crisis – with clear impacts on careers. This is not news. Yet, what may surprise you is that this jobs crisis has deep roots. [Tweet This] In fact, writers like Charles Handy and William Bridges, long ago predicted the demise corporate positions. And despite the fact that people continue to pursue full-time spots, Dan Pink has correctly characterized our nation as a free agent one – and it continues to evolve.

So, what does this have in common with surviving a zombie war?

World War Z character Arthur Sinclair, Junior, in describing an effort known as the National Reeducation Act, talks about how careers like executive, analyst, consultant which were viable in the prewar world became totally inadequate in the time of crisis. The world no longer needed people to talk on the phone to broker deals or to review contracts. He then makes an astute observation:

“That’s the way the world works. But one day it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. … For some, this was scarier than the living dead.”

By contrast, the people who did well were

“… people who knew how to take care of themselves, how to survive on very little and work with what they had.”

This is as true in our real crisis as it is in Brooks’ fictional one.

Choosing Yourself

While it’s important to have specific strategies, I think this suggests a fundamental capacity for self-direction. Over the years, I’ve tended to think of that as making choices that allow you to own your life. Yet, there is another slant on autonomy that’s offered up by James Altucher who calls characterizes it as choosing yourself.

The essence of Altucher’s argument is one that’s strikingly similar to the point made by Arthur Sinclair in World War Z. Altucher says:

“… I realized that nobody else was going to do it for me. If I was going to thrive, to survive, I had to choose myself. In every way. The stakes have risen too high not to.”

Frankly, at once, Altucher’s book is one of the most exhilarating and tedious books I’ve ever read! But I do recommend it. So much of what he says about choosing yourself is absolutely brilliant. In fact, if you don’t have time to read the whole book, at least go to his blog and read what he learned from Woody Allen and from the Beatles.

Four Choices for Career Survival

If choosing yourself is the first choice, the second one is choose not to be a zombie. I don’t mean to be harsh… But if you’re stumbling around looking for work based on job title, you may be a zombie. [Tweet This]  Avoid that fate by making regular choices to ensure your long-term survival.

Broadly, choosing yourself comes down to the specific choices for how you live your life each and every day. And I believe those specific choices are ones that will bolster your resilience and overall happiness. Yet, I think to survive and thrive in a “choose yourself” world is actually encompassed in four broad areas of choice. Specifically:

Integrity: Chose what’s truly important to you. Certainly, it’s important to be clear about your vision, sense of purpose, passions, and values. Yet, integrity is the state of being whole and complete. So, choosing integrity means doing the work to uncover your story and the themes that shaped who you are.

Community: Choose who you are can best serve. We live in a time when we can reach out and connect with more people, globally, than ever before. Yet, ironically, we cannot serve everybody. Today, our ability to deliver value rests on our ability to make meaningful, human, and caring connections with people for whom we are relevant. Personal relevance is based on a range of shared connections including experiences, beliefs, values, and more. [Tweet This]

Competence: Choose to do what only you can do. You need to be clear about how your talents and attributes create a client experience that only you can deliver. The ideal, today, is not a “plug and play” offer to produce outcomes available from others. Success means offering an experience that makes people want to work with you – and only you! [Tweet This]

Mastery: Choose to improve. It is no longer enough to rely in a core set of transferable skills. Rather, it’s critical to focus on mastery. While mastery certainly includes practice of core skills, it is more of a process that allows pushing the fundamentals to the edge to take on novel challenges.

So, no, a zombie war is not on the horizon. Yet, the stakes are high. How will you choose?


Leave a comment and let me know how you’re surviving and thriving. I’d love to know. And if you’re interested in finding strategies for more career success, consider my Career/Life Strategy coaching.


  1. says

    Hi Walter–

    Great analysis and takeaways in this post.

    I recently decided to create a personal portfolio type of blog site to give me a place to explore my ideas, while focusing the message of The Ben Franklin Follies. I’ve been touching on similar themes, without having seen this post. Now I want to back and link your post to my own and maybe touch on some of your points in the posts I’m working on for future installments

    Integrity (an integrated, wholistic approach to life) is huge for me and vitally necessary to any successful life, whether as a solopreneur, corporate cubicle drone, or parenting/mentoring others.

    We read a lot of the same books (except for World War Z), which we both already knew and seeing the world through a lens that a lot of folks are just waking up to figure out.

    I haven’t read World War Z (nor did I see the movie yet) but your post has convinced me to take a look.

  2. says

    Hi Sheree!!

    Wow!! Thanks for your awesome comment!

    It’s so great to hear from you, and to learn about your new website. I took a quick look and LOVE what you’ve done!! It’s visually rich, with the images really speaking to the themes that are important to you. And the content looks rich! Yes, I see we are exploring similar themes; and with just a quick read I can see that I need to be following you!

    I’m really happy liked this post! It was one I debated about publishing; but for a variety of reasons, decided it was right to go with it. It does present a view that others are just waking up to (or need to). I really think the message of owning your career is an important one, and I think to do that well, you really do need to make some fundamental choices. And yet, the most fundamental choices are all about integrity. It’s what makes us whole and complete, and is very necessary to long lasting achievement and happiness!

    As for “World War Z,” I can tell you that the movie was very entertaining, though it follows, in story form, just one thread of a wider story. The book is *very* different. It’s presented as a series of interviews wherein a UN investigator gathers the recollections of a diverse array of people who survived the zombie apocalypse. It really is more like reading a history. The language is raw, but the stories are compelling. As well some of the political themes that Brooks unfolds are pretty meaningful. If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to know.

    Look forward to being back in touch!!

  3. says

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening.

    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this short article together.
    I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and
    posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

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