A workplace interpretation of Hamlet‘s soliloquy:
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tale of tragedy, incest, betrayal, and masquerade – so really, not that different than most people’s life at work. The good people seem to get snuffed, people get promoted simply because they are in good with or related to the boss, understood covenants between individuals are violated, and people pretend to be something they are not to get into a position of advantage. Is it any wonder then that the word “workplace” can summon a feeling of tragedy?
But hang on, before you think this is a negative spin on company existence, it’s not. This is about choice, empowerment, and self-determination. It’s easy to be a victim. The difficulty is realizing you are CHOOSING your situation. I’m not going to post the soliloquy. If you want to view it, take a look here. My aim is to take Hamlet’s quandary and apply it to that of the modern worker who is unhappy in his current situation and how it is a matter of choice whether we stay or go.
If you are not familiar with Hamlet, the short of it is this: Hamlet is the young prince of Denmark whose father is killed. His uncle (the former King’s brother) takes the throne and marries Hamlet’s mother (the queen) mere months after Hamlet’s father’s death. Hamlet learns that his father was killed by his uncle and plunges into depression (the soliloquy is the turning point) and emerges angry and resolute to exact justice on the guilty party. Hamlet pretends to be crazy as he maneuvers to expose the truth and kill his uncle. I’m not going to give away the rest of the story but to suffice to say, it doesn’t end well for pretty much all of the main characters.
Hopefully, our story has a better ending.
During Hamlet’s depression, he contemplates suicide. This is the crux of the “To Be or Not to be” soliloquy. And while hopefully no one reading this is contemplating suicide as a result of their unfortunate working situation, I am sure many of you have considered quitting at some point or another. Which often feels like the final of most final options. Unlike suicide however, we have a chance to continue on and perhaps lead even better lives.
“The undiscovered country….puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of”
There is comfort in the known. Even when what we know is uncomfortable. The human mind is a self-preservation engine and the blackness of the unknown holds danger that we fear what we cannot manage.
“Thus Conscience does make cowards of us all”
We instead choose to stay in a terrible situation that we know and have learned to “deal with” than explore the unknown. But that is the crux of the question of either being or not being, leading or not leading, thriving or not thriving, being courageous or not – every question has a choice. Even the most simple of closed ended questions has more than one answer – yes or no.
“And thus the Native hue of Resolution is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment, with this regard their Currents turn awry, and lose the name of Action…”
We think too much. Our natural sense of resolution and commitment, even in moments of great opportunity, are overturned by our negative thoughts that fill the void of the unknown with some undefeatable monster. These negative thoughts are not based in reason, but it is the emotional response to incomprehensibility that sours our resolve. In the moments of great opportunity, we fail to act because we cannot think through to the other side.
And while Hamlet’s story has a tragic ending, he CHOSE not to kill himself and instead endeavored in an even larger attempt to right those things that were wronged. He CHOSE a difficult path with just as much uncertainty. So even when we think we have only two options, sometimes there is a third or fourth.
It takes courage to do something more than just endure. So if you have been to the edge of quitting and chosen time and time again to stay, are you at least choosing to change something? If you have already contemplated quitting, then facing the unknown has been close to your doorstep. Courage is not about blindly stepping into a dangerous situation, it is about trusting yourself to explore the unknown. Optimism is not believing that everything will turn out great regardless of how you interact in the world, it is about knowing that you have a choice in how you interact with the world and you choose to make things as good as you can for you.
Everything we encounter in any given day is a choice. Do you chose to be a player in your own life or a pawn? Do you chose to trust yourself and explore the unknown? Do you choose to make things as good as you can? Do you choose to lead, or not to lead? That is the question.
Dave Needham is a leadership coach, speaker, and President of PeakAlignment, Inc. He thrives on building awesome workplace cultures and leaders. Contact Dave Needham if you think your workplace could use more “awesome”.