a new kind of negotiation: capturing value by honoring values

Someone right now, perhaps you, is hearing the Board Finance Chair say, "It's regrettable but please understand, it's not personal. It's financial” to which you raise your eyebrows. "This is the culture of nonprofits." You blink twice at the corporate speak, feeling the familiar twinge of disdain crawl up your back. You are unemployed.

You imagine the spreadsheets and gear-grinding discussion about what to cut. You find little will to divine the faces of individual board members for their leanings. You can only visualize small, frail-boned imps counting lima beans into equal piles. You can only picture Steinbeck hurling his first draft ofThe Grapes of Wrathinto a funeral pyre. You just weren’t finished, and you are uneasy about lack of completion. Three years of diligent toil scatter like sepia photographs loosed to the wind, experience fading into history. You feel as if you were never here, an imposter finally discovered. Add to that the likelihood that you were being paid far less than you were worth in the first place, you wonder if cutting your position will really alter your employer’s bottom line.

“We must focus on essential functions," he finishes. In silence, you show yourself the door and wonder if the bathroom will have toilet paper.

Just what is your essential function now, you wonder. Twenty six weeks, baby. You better bust a move and find out.

But wait a minute. Being unemployed in a still sluggish labor market is painful stuff, and even moreso now that the Senate failed to pass the Unemployment Extension bill. And living on 30 percent of your usual income doesn’t exactly create an environment of inspiration or generate the creative juice necessary for landing a new job, let alone reinventing yourself.

Or does it? Career reinvention stories abound in the media, and not everyone is angling for a more of the same—certainly not a ladder move. We’ve grown distrustful. These are stories of loss and reclamation, of people dusting off old passions and letting go of the afflictions of consumption that deliver us every weekend to strip malls with pink-tiled roofs to shop for cake mixes and power tools.

Clearly the soulless plunder of the Lehman Brothers and AIG and Countrywide (leaving out a few bears and bulls) have driven many of women to seek a new humanity, to discover and rediscover our personal value, our non-negotiables, and our worthiness in livelihoods of our choosing.

What I've noticed in my practice parallels what we read in the news: in addition to using our extended unemployment to retrain for new careers, many are also choosing to ditch the cubicle in droves, opting to start businesses and write books, or wait tables and brew lattés in order to underwrite selling our artwork from our garages. So now more than ever we’re realizing we have an urgent need to know our intrinsic, personal value as much as we need to recalibrate our economic value.

And, big and, in our new forays as entrepreneurs or into entirely different fields we desperately need to develop our capacity to negotiate to capture our value--and to honor our values. 

And perhaps the next time we’re faced with a cut or a reduction or a layoff, we’ll have the tools to refuse our demise, and instead help our businesses and workplaces find an alternate win-win.