“I define sheepwalking as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain – dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line. You’ve probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking. “ Seth Godin, in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.
I think Seth Godin is correct, I bet we all know or have met someone who works obediently in a brain – dead, and possibly dead- end job. The reasons for people remaining in those jobs are varied. For some it is fear, for others, they simply don’t care, the job provides a pay cheque and that’s all that matters to them. For others, they stay in these positions because the right opportunity to leave or move into another position hasn’t happened yet.
A manager at my last job was a shepherd to sheepwalkers, let’s just say her and I did not jell well. Until she was hired I had a position that allowed me a lot of autonomy and flexibility. This position freed me to help low-income people by filling in some much-needed gaps in the service this organization provided. The newly hired manager had no experience in the industry yet began making sweeping changes as soon as she was hired. Amidst all these abrupt and ill-fitting changes, she awarded the sheeps who followed along without question and punished those who dared to ask questions.
During my time working with this manager I realized she made no efforts to include staff in the plans she had for her department; workers never knew when a sudden change in policy or operations would occur. Sometimes she even made up changes on the spot. Feedback, thoughts, and observations were not welcomed to be shared in team meetings; this was seen by her to be insubordination.
During my time working within this manager’s department I observed a very important lesson: if you are passionate about the work that you do, you will never be content with being a sheepwalker.
People who have a passion for their work, or those who are creative, resourceful, and vision oriented will eventually feel suppressed, unsupported, and unmotivated. Staff need a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in order to remain creatively productive.
Sheepwalkers don’t put their heart into the work they do, instead they focus on what it takes to please their superior. This type of work doesn’t even consider pleasing customers as their goal or providing patrons with a decent product; their only purpose is to make their supervisors happy.
I understand that not everyone can speak up or leave their positions, but I challenge people who are in these situations to think about what other areas of their lives have them sheepwalking or sleepwalking.
What are your interests? Are you able to freely feed this interest? This doesn’t have to be something major, it can be as simple as being free to choose what restaurant you and your friends/family are going to eat at, what movie you’re going to watch, being able to decide if you are going to stay home or go out, volunteering in positions that genuinely interests you, or maybe becoming a board member and providing your knowledge and skills to a non-profit organization.
What’s important to remember is that if you are in a work position where you spend 40 hours a week being a ‘sheepwalker’ you are going to need an outlet outside of your workplace where you can use your mind and feed your imaginative and creative self somehow; if not, there will be an important part of yourself that is not being fed. If you are not practicing this type of self care, you leave yourself vulnerable to burnout.
Check in with yourself periodically and ask yourself, are there other areas in my life where I am able to be creative or contribute my thoughts and ideas?