If you’ve ever watched HBO’s Game of Thrones then you will understand. If you’ve never seen it, you know people who have – and that’s most likely everyone else. If you watch one episode, you’ll find yourself clamouring to watch the rest. For good reason, this fantasy-based drama of power struggles, war, love, loyalty, and family accord resonate with historians for its depiction of war as being painfully deliberate and without a conscience; meaning that even the most beloved character is never guaranteed to stay in their position or even return at all. Despite being in the fantasy genre, Game of Thrones has a number of allegories relevant to the modern Canadian labour market. With good reason both those who are employed and those who a seeking employment may want to heed the warnings this fantasy offers.
(1) The Only Person Who Will Protect You Is You
In today’s labour market you can depend on others for support, but not for progress. Canada’s Employment Insurance is there and both Employment Ontario and Service Canada have invested huge amounts of capital to ensure that we live in a highly productive and educated workforce. However, it’s not the 1950s and 1960s, opportunities and safeguards are plentiful, but offers are not. The onus is entirely on you to develop and maintain your career.
In Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, Petyr Baelish, and Tyrion Lannister are three characters that in some ways couldn’t be more different from each other. They are born into privilege yes- but in this series that means nothing. Jon is loved by his family, but not recognized by his them. Petyr is a smug and morally repugnant ‘businessmen’. And Tyrion is the heart and soul and brain of a dysfunctional family that is violent and power mad. What these three have in common is their willingness to look after themselves and seize opportunity before others even know that it is there. The parallels with career growth and the attribute towards one’s willingness to look after one’s self can be encapsulated in a term called Employment Retention.
Keeping one’s position and having that position develop is the result of any number of factors, but most likely a combination; awareness of these factors is Employment Retention. From growth in a particular sector to understanding how differing sectors of the labour market are changing and evolving to simply understanding how to behave in particular professional settings are all key. The real trick is doing this in a manner that is proactive enough to keep your head afloat. While a beloved character of the first season, Lord Eddard Stark (played by Sean Bean), stayed true to his beliefs but was unable to adapt his role to changing times, and as such, could neither keep his position nor his head afloat.
(2) Your Current or Highest-Paid Position Won’t Last Forever
For the immediate future, “Job Churn” is here to stay. According to a Toronto Star report from Saturday October 22, Canadians should get used to so-called “job churn” — short-term employment and a number of career changes in a person’s life. And this isn’t just an editorial trying to be sensational; it’s come directly from Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Meaning that as productive working members of society we need to become accustom to short-term employment and a number of career changes; and not always in an order of ascending prominence either.
If Game of Thrones has a lesson for us here it’s that power and position is fleeting, and those who survive are those most willing to reinvent themselves. Tyrion and Jamie Lannister are two characters that demonstrate this without a doubt. These siblings thrived as they worked under their sister’s husband who was the king. When the king passed, his eldest teenage son, Joffrey, took control and then began running the entire kingdom like a sulky sadistic brat. As such, both Jamie and Tyrion were forced to endure unwarranted criticism and solve bureaucratic issues with a head of state that was largely too immature to fix the problems he himself was mostly causing. Without giving too many plot details away (a huge no-no in the world of Game of Thrones), both characters did reinvent themselves each time misfortune robbed them of their titles. In all of the situations, neither started at the top of their game, but in their reinvention, quickly worked to understand and take control of the changes around them.
It is change, particularly of a longstanding industry sector, that is hard on all. The closing of Stelco and its application for bankruptcy in 2007 and the 1990 economic meltdown of Dofasco both in Hamilton, Ontario hurt that city badly. The immergence of online file sharing nearly crippled the music industry when it bloomed in the late 1990s. However, like Jamie and Tyrion Lannister, both the City of Hamilton and the music industry have since re-emerged and reinvented themselves. Part of this was the courage to do things differently and part of it was the inevitably of change. There was simply no other choice.
(3) Winter Is Coming – We Have No Choice But To Adapt
Winter is coming, both literally and metaphorically, and this is not an option. If winter were a Game of Thrones allegory for the Canadian Labour Market, then winter is change, and as fearful as the characters in Games of Thrones are of winter, it would seem the majority of us in the labour market today, are as fearful of the changes to it.
In Game of Thrones part of the terrifying appeal of winter is the unknown of the ‘long dark’. The irony would be that those who embrace change and the unknown are in fact the most successful in their careers. If we look to “job churn” — short-term employment and a number of career changes in a person’s life, as the expectation for the immediate future, then we need to govern our career goals and planning accordingly- and not spend any time lamenting the past AND NOT being rigidly dogmatic in any nostalgic way. The economy could turn back to the powerhouse heydays of the 1950s and 1960s or even further back to the complete stagnation and reversal of the 1930s. The constant is change, and with that comes ever more the chance to grow and develop, so long as you are willing to embrace that change and roll with it in a proactive manner.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow”, a line told to Jon Snow by various characters in various settings. It would seem that well written stories are not without a sense of humour and a good sense of humour would not be complete without a strong understanding of irony. Jon Snow, the character most able to deal with change and lead others in ways that had not been tried before, was accused of not knowing anything. This was probably true for the most part. He was actually stabbed in the back, and more than once. However, his leadership and his career spoke NOT to his ability to know the future, but how well he chose to adapt to it.
Written By Jason D. Smith
(Who has thrived in various labour markets despite not watching beyond Games of Thrones Season 5)