The Watchmen is a classic graphic novel that was recently turned into a stylistic and pulpy film. If you haven’t seen it before, you can now check it out on Netflix. The Watchmen tells the tale of two generations of vigilantes who take the law into their own hands. The Watchmen aren’t heroes – they come with the same blemishes and moral failings as the villains. But as they play their roles as “guardians of justice” a discerning eye can pull out plenty of career lessons that will make us better workers and leaders. Here is some career advice from The Watchmen:
Do what you love to do.
The Watchmen all love fighting crime as vigilantes. Their best days were spent doing this. Since they were disbanded by Nixon, many of them seem to be feeling a real sense of regret. Sure The Comedian gets to assassinate leftists in Central America – but what he really wants to do is beat up hippies in the United States. Then there is Night Owl II, who whiles away his days reminiscing with the original Night Owl (a retired mechanic who owns a garage that specializes in “obsolete models” – get it? Cause it’s real subtle). All of these characters are craving their old job and look backwards with a real sense of regret. They feel like their glory days are past and there is almost a sense of purposelessness. Sometimes moving forward makes sense and is the right choice. But other times, a little more money to leave a job you might not actually want to leave is a recipe for regret. Sticking with what you are passionate about is key – no matter what job you have.
Partnership and teamwork trump going it alone.
The original Watchmen gang (aka Eddie Blake, Ms. Jupiter, Hooded Justice, etc) were a team for a reason. They were more effective. They had talents which augmented and supported their colleagues’ weaknesses. The same goes for the two protagonists of the story, Night Owl II and Rorschach. One has awesome gizmos and a cool airship and the other has a freaky face and the willingness to beat the answers out of just about anyone – innocent or guilty. Ying meets yang. The same can be applied in any workplace. While you may be awesome at communicating or numbers, odds are there are some things you’re less effective at. Find a colleague who you can work together with on a project and knock your next assignment out of the park.
Balance work and life.
Dr. Manhattan – that big giant superman – doesn’t do this. He’s all about his work (trying to save the world) when he should be paying attention to his girlfriend (in bed among other places). He’s distracted and doesn’t really seem to care too much about things beyond his current project. Things get rocky between Sally and him and soon Manhattan is manipulated into having a full on panic attack. He swings from one extreme (all work and no play) to the other (no work and all play – on Mars). He totally disconnects from his previous responsibilities and Earth is left in a very grim situation. Ultimately, the parable here is that by modulating our work/fun/friends and family time we’re going to avoid burnout and breakdown and be more effective long term employees.
Things change so don’t hold on to grudges
There’s this great scene mid-way through the graphic novel where Rorschach confronts “Maloch” a former arch-villain of the Watchmen in his bedroom. The “hero” is convinced Maloch is behind the murder of his partner in crime-fighting, the Comedian. After a bit of torture, Rorschach learns that Maloch has gone to prison, come out broken and alone and is now dying of cancer. The only thing left of him that’s reminiscent of his villainous status are his crooked ears. Everything else has changed and he’s but a shell of what he used to be. You sort of pity the poor guy. The lesson here is that things change and, where possible, hold on tightly but let go lightly (of hatred and anger) towards those who have wronged you in the past. Sure, you don’t need to trust them, but don’t use anger as rocket fuel when you think of them. Its just exhausting.
Trust your bosses, but don’t show all your cards.
Remember that time your boss built a secret lair in Antarctica and asked you to leave your family to travel down there to help him create a super generator with the help of a giant blue superman? Well, that’s what happened to a bunch of top scientists in the Watchmen. Their hazard pay and compensation packages for this particular assignment must have been through the roof. Heck they even got lots of face time with the billionaire genius/vigilante himself – Adrian Veidt – aka Ozymandias. But while life must have been good for a little while, in the longterm things didn’t work out quite so well for that group of researchers. Instead of a fat bonus and the fast-track up the corporate ladder of Veidt Inudstries, these employees got to drink poison and died “as the Pharaohs’ servants” did. Now, your boss is likely not going to make you drink poison champagne, but he or she may have other priorities than just your (career) wellbeing when making decisions. That’s why gathering as much information as you can about your bosses objectives makes sense. Then you can see where there is alignment and make decisions with your eyes wide open, rather than blindly trusting everything will work out.