Abraham Lincoln

Posted: May 13, 2015
By: Clay Cerny

 

I love this quotation from Lincoln:  "Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today."  The worst enemy in a job search or career change is inaction.  Whenever you tell yourself that you'll do it tomorrow, ask this question:  "What's stopping me from doing it today?"  If you have a good reason for delaying action, then you should wait for tomorrow.  However, if you keep putting off what you should do today, that will limit your opportunities to find a job.  Set written goals and note when you are delaying action.  If "I'll do it tomorrow" is a habit, it's one you will need to break to be successful.

 

Posted: June 17, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

 

First Seattle – now the Big Apple. Huffington Post reports that the New York state legislature is debating a measure that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 and enable New York City to set its own minimum wage. According to the article, the income of a minimum wage worker would increase by $100 a week. Low wage workers would spend that money, which would help improve the economy.

Will some jobs be lost if the minimum wage is increased. Probably. But other jobs will be created because of that extra $100 a week in people’s pockets. An increased minimum wage will also spur employers to increase the pay of other hourly workers. President Obama put it best: “America needs a raise.”

Posted: November 10, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs and careers in “Sabbath.”]

The Man Inside the Hero

I just finished rereading David Herbert Donald’s biography of Abraham Lincoln.  I read the book some years ago and found it even more impressive on a second reading.  Donald states early in the book that his goal was to follow Lincoln’s voice and words, which he does to a great degree.  Every historian has to select examples and design a narrative.  Donald’s Lincoln is a struggling human, not a superman.  He wrestles with political as well as moral questions.  Most importantly, for most of his presidency, his peers see him as indecisive and a failure.

Many of Lincoln’s critics did not understand how his mind worked.  They were serious people who thought they had all the answers.  Lincoln was humble and often tortured by self-doubt.  At the same time, he was a leader who knew when to make a decision and take responsibility for his action.  Donald depicts Lincoln as often being too involved in decisions related to military strategy. Frustrated by his generals’ lack of success or aggressiveness, Lincoln would devise his own battle plans.  That all changed when he named U.S. Grant to lead the Union Army.  Lincoln put his faith in Grant, and, despite early setbacks in 1864, his final choice of generals proved to be wise.

As a politician, Lincoln had to balance a Republican Party that was divided on the question of Emancipation.  Many in the party agreed with Northern Democrats who want peace with the South even if it meant leaving slavery in place.  Lincoln himself wavered on this question.  He sought various compromises that included compensating former slave holders and colonizing the former slaves.  In the end, influenced by anti-slavery advocates like Frederick Douglass and inspired by the sacrifice of African American soldiers, Lincoln became a strident champion to end slavery.  Again, he adapted with the conditions of his time.

Lincoln’s genius was not so much his intellect or even his words as it was his lack of ego.  Where other leaders could only see one path, Lincoln kept an open mind and accepted the fact that he could be wrong.  When reporters pressed him to explain his policy, he answered, “My policy is to have no policy.”  Throughout the war, Lincoln changed his mind and tried different approaches.  Some, such as suspension of habeas corpus and shutting down opposition newspapers, were condemned as dictatorial.  However, as Donald outlines in his biography, Lincoln faced such opposition that he had to bend the law to save the Union.  Long before William James or John Dewey, Lincoln was a pragmatist who judged actions on results rather than ideals.

History never repeats itself.  It is useless to speculate about how Lincoln would address contemporary issues, such as health care, civil liberties, or political division.  The one lesson I think we can take from his life and political career is the need to balance principled belief with an openness to change.  Maintaining the Union was Lincoln's primary mission as President.  That never changed.  How he achieved that end in the face of so many challenges was the magic.

Posted: September 2, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I just spent a couple of days in Springfield, Illinois, visiting many sites that honor one of America’s greatest heroes, Abraham Lincoln.  People think of Lincoln as the President who fought the Civil War and ended slavery.  We also marvel at his wisdom and morality.  What we often forget that Lincoln was a worker who believed in the dignity of labor.  As a young boy and man, he was a farm worker, rail splitter, boat worker, and surveyor – all before he was 30.  After moving to Illinois, Lincoln became a lawyer and politician.  He often argued that freedom depended on the ability to earn a fair living, and he compared kings to those who “live off the toil of others.”

After Lincoln’s death, American workers joined in labor unions that brought improved wages and working conditions.  Labor Day was made a holiday not long after the Pullman Strike in the late 19th century.  Many workers were jailed and died in the strikes and protests that brought change, including the ability to join unions.  The influence of unions pushed politicians to build a social safety net with its base as Social Security and Medicare.  Over the last 30 years, too many Americans took these advances for granted.  They accepted anti-worker and anti-labor propaganda while more and more of wealth and income was transferred from working people to – in Lincoln’s words – “those who live off the toil of others,” wealthy investors and their bankers.

This Labor Day we might be seeing a change coming.  Last year, the Chicago Teachers Union defied a Democratic mayor who hates labor almost as much as the most conservative Republican – and they beat him (at least until the school closings and budget cuts). Low wage workers in the retail and fast food sectors are starting to fight as miners and rail workers did more than 100 years ago. Like their great grandparents, they are engaging in direct action, risking arrest just to have the right to ask for a raise and join a union.  Elsewhere in Chicago, I see signs in the windows of many homes and signs on the lawn: Proud Union Home.  Working people are beginning to make their voices heard.  Lincoln would approve. 

Labor Day Extras

 Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses the importance of unions and respecting labor.

 President Obama praises labor and organizing without mentioning unions

 Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times reflects on the day.

 Amy Dean looks at the new face of labor – alt-labor – and the tactics it uses.

Posted: May 3, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

During a speech in 1864, Lincoln said, “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relationship, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”

I found this quote in The “S” Word by John Nichols.  More on this fascinating book in future posts.

Posted: December 3, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Our 16th president gave some advice that everyone looking for a job should follow:

"Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle."

Posted: November 10, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Our 16th president said this:  "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing." 

The job search is never easy.  Those who find the best jobs follow Lincoln's advice. 

 

Posted: October 7, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The 16th President of the U.S. spoke these words:

“Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well.  With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue.  The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines himself exceedingly tired.  The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing.”

Lincoln speaks the truth.  Do what you love, and it won’t be work.  You will be proud of what you produce.  That’s a great job.

Posted: June 14, 2011
By: Clay Cerny
Category:

Wise words from the 16th president:  "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

Posted: October 31, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling looks away from careers to other aspects of life and work.]

Scary Things – Good & Bad

Boo!  It’s Halloween, and children are dressed as ghosts, goblins, and superheroes.  The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t detract from the happy squeals of young people chasing candy and other goodies.  Adults celebrate this holiday more and more each year.  I was out with friends yesterday, and we saw many interesting costumes, including men dressed as a nurse and Wonder Woman.  Halloween is funny – scary fun.

We’ve seen a different kind of scary work over the past few months – political commercials.  It seems that all politicians from both main parties can do is try to tear each other down.  We as voters have the great responsibility of hiring our leaders.  How is that possible when all we get are attempts to scare us that the other “guy” (or gal) is a monster.  I think of this in the context of what I do every day as a career coach and resume writer.  My job is to discover and sell my clients’ strongest talents and skills.  Our politicians today do the opposite to their opponent.  Tear the other guy down, and hope the employer will pick me.  What employer would hire such a person?

We are a society more and more driven by fear.  Some tales of fear (horror movies, vampire tales) are just entertainment.  We suspend our disbelief and let go in a world of monsters and terror.  However, that same emotion has taken over the way many adults view all aspects of reality.  The mere mention of 9/11 sends many people back to the emotions they felt on a tragic day nearly 10 years ago.  Their fears often twist into paranoid political arguments and shrill anger.  In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has shown how these emotions let cynical politicians make voters dance like puppets on a string.

In some ways, children are braver than adults.  They go through the haunted house without being scarred.  They’ll go back next year and enjoy the same dark rooms and ominous music.  Too many adults have come to be paralyzed by fear.  They accept a belief that gives them comfort, and then they refuse to test or challenge that belief.  Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying that he felt fear when he was on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.”  That’s a Halloween problem with serious consequences (not for Williams, of course, because Fox gave him a $2 million a year contract extension).  People wearing turbans (Sikhs, not Muslims) have been beaten because ignorant, fearful people think this is “Muslim garb.”  As many of Williams’ detractors have pointed out, the terrorists on 9/11 were not dressed in any kind of ethnic clothing.  They looked like every young male on the plane.  However, that fact will not sway the fearful adult mind, especially in this political climate where ignorance rule.  Fear trumps facts.  Emotions overwhelm reason.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that there are many legitimate factors causing Americans to be afraid: unemployment, foreclosures, wage cuts, and a broken political system.  My problem is that we are not solving those problems the right way.  Most historians point to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as two of our greatest presidents.  Lincoln, facing a war that could split the country, called on his fellow citizens to live with “malice toward none, with charity for all.”  FDR, at the height of the Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  They challenged the American people to be better, stronger.  Too many of our leaders today (following the example of snake oil salesmen like Glen Beck) want only weakness and fear.

Tomorrow the Halloween decorations will start coming down.  Happily, the next night the political commercials will stop running (except here in Chicago where we have a mayoral election in February).  Children will start looking forward to Christmas.  Ghosts will give way to Santa Claus. Their scary days will be gone for a year.  Sadly, for too many adults, being scared is all they know any more.  It’s all cynical politicians want them to know.  Boo!  Don’t vote for the other guy – he’s a monster (or a Kenyan, or a socialist).  Fear-fueled insults and name-calling have become a type of political discourse.  The grown ups need to take a hard look at the kids – and grow up.