3 Things GAME OF THRONES Can Teach You About Surviving and Thriving In Canada’s Modern Labour Market

The Fortress of Klis, situated near Split, Croatia. The medieval fortress has regularly been used as a location for filming the HBO series, The Game of Thrones. Photo credit: Pixaby

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)

Job Loss or Unemployment Can Lead to New Beginnings


While the period following a job loss is undoubtedly challenging, understanding (and accepting) the stages and feelings associated with this transitional time may enable you to muster up a bit more hope and optimism about your future and ultimately help to expedite the natural grieving and transition process so that you can move on and take hold of new opportunities.


According to the Deems Job Loss Reaction Cycle, many people will experience a roller coaster of emotions and reactions when rebounding from job loss; the stages in the cycle are: shock and disbelief, anger and resentment, denial and bargaining, self-doubt and put-downs, withdrawal and depression, and acceptance and affirmation.


Shock and Disbelief: If you’ve been fired or laid off, it’s highly likely that you’ve experienced feelings of shock and disbelief – a period of time when the situation just doesn’t seem real. For many people, this period will last from a few minutes to a few hours but for others it can linger much longer.


Anger & Resentment: For most, feelings of shock and disbelief are quickly replaced by emotions of anger and resentment. During this time, many people will direct anger at their past employer; however, anger may also be directed at unrelated targets. In some instances, it may be helpful to seek out professional assistance to discuss your feelings and to develop a plan for moving forward.


Denial and Bargaining:  While many people understand that a termination or a layoff is non-negotiable, others have difficulty accepting a termination as final. Difficult as it may be, it is important to recognize that your job has ended and begin to move on. Don’t let your job status define you. You define who you are, not your job or a company’s decision.


Self-Doubt and Put-Downs: At some point, most people who lose their job will experience feelings of self-doubt and unrest regarding their role in their termination.  This is true even in the case of downsizing which often has little to no bearing on employment performance. Focusing on your accomplishments and achievements will help you to build confidence and encourage your mobility.


Withdrawal and Depression: It’s no wonder that many job seekers experience feelings of withdrawal and depression. By creating and following a well-developed job search plan, many people are able to minimize those feelings and advance forward more quickly. Additionally, self-care, social support, and participation in recreational activities may also help people to overcome this period.


Acceptance and Affirmation: This stage is undoubtedly the most comfortable of all of the stages in the transition cycle! It occurs following acceptance of the fact that you’ve experienced a major job change and are ready to embrace new opportunities. At this stage, people will be able to appreciate their professional value, form a positive outlook about their future, and move on.


While everyone who is laid off or terminated will experience the job loss cycle, the exact process and duration between job loss and acceptance is by no means uniform. Fortunately, understanding the stages associated with job loss can help you to better adjust and prepare to advance towards new opportunities. Normalizing your experience and developing coping strategies for dealing with each of the stages of this cycle will help to achieve acceptance and affirmation more quickly. For many people, seeking out guidance from an Employment Specialist or Counsellor can be very helpful.