A career-topics blogger at Forbes uses the movie “Michael Clayton” as an example of bad career management.
“Michael Clayton” stars George Clooney as a lawyer at a fancy Manhattan law firm. Clayton comes from a blue-collar background and has a degree from an unprestigious school, so he isn’t one of the cool people. But because he comes from a rougher background and has a brother who is a cop, he is able to deal with sticky situations involving crime and low-life behavior that the high-class lawyers can’t. He is a “fixer”, and serves a vital purposed for the firm even if from a social standpoint they find him kind of embarrassing. I haven’t seen it but I generally think George Clooney plays marginal middle-aged men very well- “Up in the Air” was great- so I think I will.
Susannah Breslin thinks this is loserville to be avoided if at all possible, and escaped from if possible. We live in a culture where to be Michael Clayton is not cool. Everybody is supposed to be the guy with the bright smile in the expensive suit up front shaking hands with the players.
Everybody wants to be one of the cool guys. The cool guys are alphas. In a work environment, they are very competitive and aren’t going to admit anybody but the chosen few to their ranks. Below them are the betas, all jockeying to be alphas. It’s not a bad life, and has many benefits, and even I have said “Who Wants To Be a Beta Male? I Do!” But it’s still a rough life, that produces a lot of disappointments and many casualties. Post WWII American literature, such as John Cheever and John Updike, and Arthur Miller in “Death of a Salesman” is largely about this. For high-level betas, it works OK. For low-level betas, it’s scary and depressing.
On the other hand, Michael Clayton doesn’t go to the important meetings, or lunch with the big shots, but he does not have to kiss anybody’s ass and knows he will always have a job. If you are lower on the social scale, it’s probably better to be needed than loved.