Escape the Matrix and Reclaim Your Future

Note: I’m generally not a fan of two-part posts. Yet, in thinking about the time you may have to read, I felt breaking my nearly 3,000 words into two parts would be best.  In this part, I want to highlight the context for the strategies I will present in Part 2. In any event, I hope each part is a worthwhile read for you. So, let’s get started.

Living IllusionI don’t know how you feel about the current state of things, but it sure seems to me that increasingly we are living in some kind of Matrix-like world. Actually, I’ve written about this before. Yet, before saying much more, I want to share the definition of the matrix that inspired my first post:

“One way to interpret the movie is that we’re supposed to realize that there are lots of games out there, and many of them are designed to deceive you, to keep you feeling as if you’re running the show when you’re not.”

That observation comes from Chris Brogan who was discussing the premise of the movie, The Matrix.

When I wrote my original post, I was offering advice on job search to people feeling the heat of an economy that’s in pretty poor shape. It’s still in poor shape. And yet, the fact that the economy is in horrible shape, and only getting worse is not even the scary part. No, what’s truly frightening is the view, as recently delivered by some government officials, that the projected loss of jobs actually empowers people. [Tweet this] 

It doesn’t.

Earned Success, Happiness, and Longevity

Frankly, I hold to the belief that true happiness, optimal health, and longevity are tightly related to the idea of earned success, which economist Arthur C. Brooks discusses in his book, The Road to Freedom, as well as in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Referencing the work of psychologist Martin Seligman on learned helplessness, Brooks states:

“People simply give up and stop trying to succeed…During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks.”

In my experience as an outplacement consultant, I can attest to the fact that people without jobs are thrown onto an emotional roller coaster. And job loss has as much to do with harming sense of identity and relationships as it does with forfeiture of money and health insurance. Worse, the longer people are jobless, the less attractive they are to prospective employers. [Tweet this]  Over time, that sense of loss and helplessness can only become deeper.

Yet, this is about more than loss of identity and depression. Not working may even have an impact on how long you live. In their book, Successful Aging, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, PhD, discuss a three-part model for longevity: (1) avoiding disease, (2) maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and (3) engagement with life. Significantly, engagement with life is determined by continued productive activity and maintaining relationships with other people.

Interestingly, the beneficial link between productive behavior and relationships is a key part of work life.  In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, Tom Rath points out that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction! [Tweet this]

Opt for the Red Pill of Reality

Fortunately, we still have two fundamental choices. Blue pill or Red Pill. On the one hand, we can continue to live an “illusion of ignorance ” by accepting others’ constructions of reality – no matter how Orwellian. Or, we can opt for living the “truth of reality” by being willing to take control of our careers and our lives.

Let’s start with your career.

One of hard realities you need to face is this: In a shrinking economy, there are ever more resumes chasing ever fewer jobs. [Tweet this]  Sure, traditional thinking guides you toward preparing a sharp resume, writing a strong cover letter, querying your network for job leads, joining LinkedIn, mining job boards, and practicing your interview skills. In short, using a strategy in which you “apply for jobs.” Frankly, to think this is effective is mostly an illusion. Yes, in a good economy, applying for jobs can lead to success 20 –30 % of the time.

These are small odds.

On the other hand, pursuing opportunities via relationships is a better bet. How much better? Well, over the years, research has shown that insiders have the edge in winning work. [Tweet this]  An inside track into this “hidden job market” leads to finding a job more than 70 % of the time.  And this applies to contract jobs and consulting gigs as well as full-time opportunities.

Belonging Is Vital

Having an inside track can, of course, lead to becoming an “insider.”  Certainly, insider status can have negative as well as positive connotations. Yet, I’d argue that whatever success you have in life, is directly related to attaining insider status. Think of it as belonging. Like other people, you no doubt feel the urge to belong, and generally you find it in your relationships with your family and friends. Vial Relationships

When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life. So, imagine what your life would be like if you belonged to several thriving communities of mutual support.

First, Own Your Life

So much of what you want in life comes more easily when you belong. Yet, there is a paradox here. Your opportunities to belong, and the outcomes it brings, are directly related to owning your life.  You need, first, to be your best for yourself before you can be your best for others. So, even as you cultivate mutually beneficial relationships, you must be sufficiently self-directed to put your choices in your own hands. [Tweet this] 

In Part 2, I’ll offer strategies for owning your life and reclaiming your future. Meanwhile, I’d like to leave you with this, from Chris Brogan:

“There’s what we think is real; there’s what we observe as real: and then there’s what we can change. Avoid the many versions of the Matrix. Look for it everywhere. Make your own game.”


What are your illusions? And how ready are you to take the red pill of reality? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment.


  1. says

    If you’d like to learn more about the economics behind job loss referenced here, check out this Wall Street Journal Saturday Interview with Casey Mulligan:

    “The Economist Who Exposed ObamaCare: The Chicago professor examined the law’s incentives for the poor not to get a job or work harder, and this week Beltway budgeteers agreed.”

    It’s here:

  2. says

    This is a lot of good information Walter. Perhaps a 4-part worthy post! I’m familiar with Tom Rath’s work with Gallup. I remember the engagement impact of having at least one close friend at work… at least I hope it was at least one (three close friends sounds intimating but nice too ;). I do have one very close friend at work and yes, it makes a big difference. To answer your question, I say I fall into the illusion that my career is in other people’s hands. It’s not. It’s under my own control – to experience it fully or not is up to me.

    • says

      Thanks, Brent! I’m happy you enjoyed this post.

      Yes!! It’s lots of information, and probably could have gone to a longer series. However, I really wanted to present all of this in a shorter series; first providing the rationale for why we need to reclaim our lives, and then giving more specifics.

      I’ve written about Tom Rath’s work before, and I think it’s important. It helps people reconsider how they behave at work. If it’s all framed as political and competitive, it’s not going to feel rewarding. If we have friends, at least that takes some of the pressure off. I think what really surprised me the most is the spillover of satisfaction to life in general. And I think that’s awesome!

      As for your career, I think the first step to regaining control is to see our illusions! This is really a special case of “it’s not what happens, it’s how we react to what happens.” Blaming external factors is an easy trap to fall into, but reminding ourselves who really owns our careers and lives is very important.
      Of course, this isn’t perfect, but becomes a lot easier over time!

      Thanks, again, Brent!

  3. says

    Hi Walter, I like the fact that this post is in two parts, I have just drunk my morning coffee whilst reading and digesting this half.

    What you have written is so true, here in Greece the economy is really scary, jobs are scarce and there are alot of people owed wages, but employers seem to think its there right to hold onto employees money.

    And I am not surprised that people become depressed when things are beyond their control. Our minds are so powerful and bog them down with worry and negative thoughts and feelings and it’s like being stuck in a pool of quicksand; everything becomes a struggle.

    We are social animals with a basic common need to belong, that’s why good family values is so important.

    I have your second post up and ready to read….So excuse me while I get another coffee…….

    • says

      Thanks for your perspective on this, Debbie!! …and for taking the time to read over your morning coffee!! :)

      Yes, I can well imagine what the situation is in Greece…though it seems to have settled down a bit …or at least is not making our headlines lately. Still, it seems to me to be just one example of what happens when people blindly place their fates in the hands of social institutions like corporations and governments. When we give up control over our own lives, it seems we can end up feeding the whims of people with an insatiable need for power.

      Of course, that power is often sustained on the communication of Orwellian illusions. Yet, those very illusions can be shattered the moment we wake up and take charge. Unfortunately, as you rightly point out, our tendency is to become a bit depressed when things seem beyond our control. And while it may seem that we are drowning in quick sand, we do have the power to change.

      The fact that we’re social and crave belonging can help, but it’s a double-edged sword. Cast your lot with people invested in the status quo, and you remain forever mired. Find like-minded people who provide mutual support and you can reclaim your future.

      But you must wake up. And you must act!

      Hopefully, this part of my series has made a strong case for waking up!

  4. says

    Without a doubt, things don’t change unless we take decisive action. I agree that it is no good sitting waiting for things to change on their own, we must those changes happen!

  5. says

    Great post, Walter. I particularly like that you’ve brought up how our work impacts our entire well-being, not just our bank accounts. People inherently need t feel that they matter, through their contributions.

    And I couldn’t agree more about the benefit of belonging to multiple communities. Once you belong, it really turns traditional means of getting what you want in life on its head.

    I love how you’ve ended with the conclusion: “You need, first, to be your best for yourself before you can be your best for others.” To thy own self be true!

    • says

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Carol! Yes! Work is important as much for our well-being as it is for our income streams!

      Work can meet a wide range of human needs, including bolstering our identity, providing opportunities for productive work, and developing relationships. To see this broader picture can really change our experience and add to the quality of our lives!

      …and yes, to engage in work and life in a more joyful way, we really do need to bring our best!!

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