Rethinking work is key to success

Consultant favors attitude change
By Pamela H. Sacks


Cliff Hakim recognized the arrival of rampant workplace uncertainty in the widespread layoffs of the early 1990s. He suspected complex and powerful economic forces would permanently change the way people view what they do and where they do it.

A career consultant, Mr. Hakim knew firsthand the pain those changes were causing. Most people just wanted to find another high-paying, white-collar job that would take them to retirement.

He believed those days were gone forever, and a new attitude would be needed in the emerging job market. His views prompted him to write “We Are All Self-Employed: How to Take Control of Your Career,” which was published in 1994. Back then, his concept was a tough sell.

By the start of the 21st century, Mr. Hakim had proved to be an early and accurate prognosticator of a rough and tumble economy that would lead to downsizing and outsourcing. He realized the time had come to update “We Are All Self-Employed” ($17.95, Berrett-Koehler, 2nd edition, 2003) to reflect a job market where corporate needs change at lightning speed and everyone is dispensable.

To survive — and thrive — Mr. Hakim advocates every worker adopt the attitude: You’re the boss of your own work life. In other words, the paternalistic company that took care of its employees is history; how you fare in the workplace is your own responsibility.

“I respect the individual who has a hard time with this,” Mr. Hakim said by telephone from his Boston office the other day. “We have to honor how deep the seeds are for an employed attitude. On some level, we all want to be taken care of. But I now know unequivocally that we can’t rationalize a self-employed attitude away.”

Mr. Hakim’s approach calls for independence and inter-dependence at the same time. In other words, you must take the time to know yourself and where you fit in, while connecting with others who can assist you and whom you can assist. This is true whether you want to remain vital to a company in which you are already employed, or whether you are seeking a new job.

This can often mean relinquishing the sense of security that comes with a certain title or area of expertise. It can be a blow to the ego. Mr. Hakim assists many of his clients with this difficult transition.

“You have to be willing to open up your learning channel and be hungry for the learning, as opposed to knowing it all,” Mr. Hakim said. “I think it’s that learning that adults have a hard time with. The self-employed attitude is how you engage with that learning.”

In his book, Mr. Hakim relates the story of Kerry, a news commentator and radio talk show host, who wanted a different challenge — to work with a national television station as a news reporter and commentator. Kerry found it difficult to let go of his prestigious position. “I have this panicky feeling as though I have nothing to hold on to,” he told Mr. Hakim. Mr. Hakim writes that “gradually Kerry traded `holding on to the past’ for `continuous learning.’ ”
With the disappearance of old-fashioned job security, people are forced to examine where their true interests lie. No one should be ho-hum about their work, Mr. Hakim, 52, says. Everyone needs to find their “passion” and be able to convey it.
“You better be able to illustrate your passion,” he advised. “You better be able to come up with stories that illustrate your passion. You need to be able to wake up what’s inside of you and convince a company you can meet their needs.”
Over the past decade, the notion that people can remake themselves and start over again has become ingrained in the public consciousness. Many have been forced into transition; others have reached a point where they want a change because what they are doing is no longer satisfying.
“I think a lot of people are in a debate between how they’ve been and where they might go,” Mr. Hakim said. “They are also in a debate between how people have seen them and how they would like to be seen.
“Today, there is tremendous permission to remake yourself — if you give yourself permission,” he said. “It’s part of the tapestry of our life today.”
Crossing that moat can seem treacherous, Mr. Hakim said, but is far less threatening if taken a step at a time. One thing is certain: No one can go it alone.
“When you’re most under siege, that’s the time you have to turn to family, church, colleagues and friends who can support you in adapting to a new belief system,” he said.
Mr. Hakim, who grew up in Shrewsbury, has personal experience with making this sort of transition. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in special education and taught for a while. He then took a job as a headhunter.
“I realized what this was leading to was a great expansion of my creativity,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to write and counsel others.”
He went on to write his first book, “When You Lose Your Job,” and to found his career counseling firm, Rethinking Work (
He also delivers presentations in this country and abroad and writes a newsletter. He brought his message to Worcester Friday as the keynote speaker at the Career Services Professional Development Day sponsored by the Colleges of Worcester Consortium at Clark University.
“A lot of what drives my zeal is mortality,” said Mr. Hakim, who recently lost his best friend to cancer. “I know, as we were born we will die. While we’re here, why not live fully? Love who you are and give who you are so other people will benefit. That’s a lifelong journey.”