I was fourteen-years-old when my older brother, Steve, was grounded for one of his many challenges towards our parents’ authority. Part of his punishment was that he was no longer allowed to go to a concert later that week. With no other choice, he reluctantly gave me that ticket. Little did I know that it would be a concert I would remember for more than thirty-five years.
The headliner that night was Ozzy Osbourne but the show was stolen by a young and loud thrash metal band named Metallica. Their new album, Master of Puppets, was released less than two months earlier but it had taken over the boomboxes and stereos of headbangers across the nation. Without any radio airplay and nothing but word of mouth to spread it, the sold-out Nassau Coliseum had more people there to see Metallica than they did to see iconic Osbourne.
From the opening acoustic notes of “Battery” until the final crunching chords of Damage, Inc,. the blistering set left the packed crowd stunned and exhausted once the lights came back on. I thought it was just me, but during the entire intermission, the conversations all around us let me know that what I just witnessed was revolutionary. Even the experienced metal heads said they had never seen a show like that before.
Master of Puppets, after all of these years, has become Metallica’s opus. In 2015, The Library of Congress deemed that album “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry. It was the first heavy metal album to receive that honor.
There are numerous factors that made that album significant. One aspect was the songwriting. Each song had a story, a history and a significance behind it. One often overlooked song on that album was titled “Disposable Heroes.” By just glancing at the lyrics, it’s easy to assume that it was based on not just the horrors of war but about how young men are thrown into battle, their lives destroyed all for the art of war by ruthless and power hungry leaders.
“Barking of machine gun fire
Does nothing to me now
Sounding of the clock that ticks
Get used to it somehow
More a man, more stripes you wear
Glory seeker trends
Bodies fill the fields I see
The slaughter never ends”
Yet James Hetfield, the lead singer who wrote Disposable Heroes, got his inspiration from more than the political games of control. In fact, Metallica fans might be shocked to learn that the idea came from Hetfield watching a game of football on television. He heard the announcer call the players ‘disposable heroes’, because they give everything in their careers, they get busted up and then they get thrown away. Hetfield combined the idea of football players and military soldiers, and the song took shape to describe the idea.
After hearing this, the idea of a disposable hero seemed more expansive, to me at least. It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to expand it to the world of Corporate America as well.
There isn’t a week that goes by where a friend reaches out to me in distress because either they feel they are losing their soul inside due to their job or they were unceremoniously let go after giving the company everything they had. They gave up precious time with their family. They missed their kids’ games. They traded in their entrepreneurial dreams and ambitions for the security promised. They gave their energy and youth to a company that would replace them as quickly as the army would replace a dead soldier or a football team would replace an injured player.
Yet, when they are no longer needed or deemed necessary, these people are tossed into a heaping corporate pile of discarded and forgotten history. Knowing nothing but the world they have just left, they wander in a blurry haze, not unlike the concussed football player given their walking papers because they can no longer perform at their peak on the field.
We are trained from the first day that we step onto that school bus, that we are disposable. Same bus, same building, same format, same structure. That carries on into the corporate world. The only way the system works efficiently is to create and train disposable heroes.
The truth is, most people are happy to make that trade. They will cross their fingers, hoping they are the lucky ones that make it through so they don’t have to take the risk of creating their own career on their terms. They accept the benefits, the rules and the income limits. That deal, they know, comes with the risk of becoming a disposable hero. Just like the athlete and the soldier.
The riskier ones don’t want any part of that game. They believe that creating their own life and business-away from the corporate structure- gives them the freedom to be the opposite of disposable.
They have become indispensable.
They know that having clients in a wide range of areas and income streams allows them to be fluid. To have freedom. To have options. They know that no one client can cut their dreams out from under them. They have learned that a variety of opportunities leads to innovation, creativity and excitement within their work. So, whether you are a fifty-two year old rising up the corporate ladder or an eighteen-year-old just getting started, you should ask yourself one question.
Are you becoming disposable or indispensable?
Have an AMAZING day!