Rent? Or Own?

“Are you just renting a job?”

Joe Tye, “America’s Value Coach,” author, and motivational speaker, posed that question in a recent newsletter that passed through my e-mail.

I was intrigued.

In one of his many books, The Florence Prescription, he writes, “Anytime someone says, ‘not my job,’ walks by a patient room where the call light is on, or does not stoop down to pick up a piece of paper on the floor, that person is renting a space on the organization chart, not taking ownership for the work itself.”


Tye also asks this: “when was the last time you vacuumed your hotel room? Changed the oil in a rental car? Replaced a scratched rental DVD?”

Likely never, right? That’s just not generally part of a renter’s responsibilities. (Well, my brother rents out his beach-town condo,  and there is a little something in the agreement about neatening the place up, plus a handy sweeper residing in the closet for just that purpose. But you could say that’s a little different than a hotel room, and I’d not argue.)

The point is, renters rent. They don’t maintain – that’s supposed to be someone else’s job. They don’t expect to stay there for long and, besides, they’re scanning for better places and things. If what they have falls into disrepair, they simply bemoan the fact, give notice and move on. Their job is to pay the rent for whatever period of time they inhabit the car, live in a hotel room, or watch that new release on DVD. That’s the agreement, and when they live up to it, as most of us do, they can be rightfully proud.

Tye pulls out that specific metaphor – no one changes the oil in a rental car – and uses it for the “not my job” attitude of people who are just renting a space on the organization chart. Wow. That’s a powerful comparison.

I’ve been chewing on that concept for a while because I get that, I really do, for organizations. If you’re invested as an employee, all the parts of your place of employment are a source of pride, and it becomes second nature for you to pitch in with whatever it takes to make it successful. You probably don’t even think about it because it matters. You have ownership. You care.

So I’m good, there. But let me take Joe Tye’s points and re-frame them, shall we say, in a little more pointed way.

Are we just renting our lives?

Do we bother changing our oil once in a while? Do we know what’s important to us? Do we have dreams and ideas that we haven’t pursued?

In other words, are we coasting along, waiting for the “right moment” to actually get invested in our lives? Are we sitting around waiting for “things” to happen, that big break to plop into our arms, that most excellent company to offer the “perfect job” suited to our skills, or that “perfect person” to walk up and, in the sexiest of voices, say, “hi, there,” and be immediately smitten?

Because if that describes the attitude, we might want to rethink the approach.

The surprise is this: those perfect jobs, perfect people, and perfectly big breaks happen to people who work for them, not people who wait for them. And the even bigger surprise? People who get invested in their lives – who live, not coast – are the ones who snag those kinds of things. Oh, let’s not leave out the gargantuan surprise that tops off the whole thing: We don’t really snag those things. We basically create them, often from the less-than-perfect jobs, the less-than-perfect but authentic people, and the less-than-big breaks. We create them simply by being invested in what we do. We own; we don’t rent.

See the connection? It’s circular, and it all starts right here with us – with me and with you. When you take ownership of your life, you set out to find what there is to love about where you are and what you do and who you know and how you live. It doesn’t hurt to learn all you can from your experiences, to put your back into whatever you choose to do. In the end, you may fall into bed tired every night because you gave it everything you had – but you’ll feel good about your impact. Plus, your life will be full of meaning.

So, to use Joe Tye’s illustration, step up. Pick up your own trash from the floor. Change your oil. You OWN this life, so take charge of it. If you just rent it out to the whims of others without investing yourself in it, you know what happens. It’s not in the rental agreement to change the oil, replace the scratched DVD, or vacuum the floor. It’s up to someone else.

Well, that someone else would be you.  Granted, it costs more to own than to rent, really. All that upkeep, continuous maintenance, and occasional improvements, you know. Lucky for us, ownership takes far more sweat equity than any other component. It requires hard work – digging deeply to discover what we value and what we envision, finding our pride in ownership and our desire to improve, deciding that we are the architects of our lives and we can’t blame others, or society, or anyone else for our circumstances.

So, go.  Get invested. And when you look back in a couple of years, you may just discover that you’re in a pretty perfect spot – invested in living the life you want.

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