By now we all have a pretty firm grip on Emerson’s individualism.
He’s all about himself.
I’m not saying this in a bad way, but Emerson is highly independent and self-sufficient. All Emerson, all the time. This mentality has its benefits. If we never had to interact with others we would probably be less stressed, more open, and more focused on ourselves. But is Emerson’s individualistic view really practical today, especially in the workplace?
(Obligatory generic work/teamwork video marred by comical acting)
Think about any job description or application you have read. How many of them cite “proficiency in working in a team-based environment” or “interpersonal skills” or “experience working in small groups” as a requirement? Most, if not all. Fact is, teamwork is a staple of the professional world today. It is with these team-based environments that companies produce novel ideas, solve conflicts, and maximize their outputs. In a Darwinian professional environment, Emerson-esque individualists would be hung out to dry.
“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” (Emerson 23). While this philosophy may be rational and beneficial if we were locked in a room for the rest of our lives, this phrase is simply not possible to carry out today. How many times do we, as University students, get placed in small groups with the intention of carrying out some sort of task? Be it reviewing a paper, writing a lab report, or presenting a group project, if we are only concerned with ourselves we will fail to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. In the context of the workplace this phrase seems just as blasphemous. How can one claim to be working for a corporation, not for profit, hospital, or anywhere else while claiming to be focused on themselves and only themselves? Just ask Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary of Penn State University. This strategy does no good in the long run.
The other part of Emerson’s work which is not truly practical in the professional world is his notion that consistency is frowned upon. “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” (Emerson 24). Ironically, it is consistency that is most rewarded in the workplace. Inconsistency, in fact, is one of the great failures of employees at any job. While working to our full capabilities on Tuesdays and Thursdays while taking Monday, Wednesday, and Friday off would be great, it wouldn’t get us very far in the professional world. Consistency, on the other hand, is absolutely necessary to have a successful career. Think about tenured professors or those who perform so well at their craft that they get promoted. Back to the Paterno example, this is someone who tireless worked for the same University in the same position for 45 years. How was he rewarded (despite his public embarrassment in the Sandusky case)? A measly pension of $500,000 per year.(http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/story/2011-11-15/joe-paterno-pension/51223854/1 ) Consistency undoubtedly pays off in the workplace.
It can be said that Emerson’s philosophy is too idealist to survive today. Our lives are filled with, and thrive upon, personal interactions. In the workplace as in life, one who is “self-reliant” today is destined to fail.