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Applying 'Hunger Games' lessons to your workplace

By Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder.com
updated 9:56 AM EST, Wed November 30, 2011
When things get tough in your workplace, remember to showcase your strongest skills.
When things get tough in your workplace, remember to showcase your strongest skills.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Learn how to survive a stressful work environment from 'The Hunger Games'
  • Know what you're good at and hone that skill
  • Seek out an untraditional mentor and stand up for what you believe in

(CareerBuilder.com) -- If you're a big "The Hunger Games" fan like I am, you were probably crazy excited to watch the movie's first trailer, which recently debuted.

For those of you who aren't as familiar with the popular trilogy of books turned major motion pictures, here's a quick synopsis. The story takes place during an unidentified time in the future in a post-apocalyptic nation called Panem. Panem consists of a wealthy Capitol and 12 surrounding Districts. Each year, as punishment for past revolts, the Capitol hosts a gladiator-like competition called the Hunger Games, where one boy and one girl are chosen from each District as tributes and must fight to the death until just one remains. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, and in the first book, Katniss's younger sister is picked as tribute. Fearful that her sister would never make it out alive, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

As I watched the trailer for the 14th time (as research for this post ... I swear), I started thinking about the work lessons that could be gleaned from the story. Sure, your workplace may not resemble a Roman gladiator arena, but given how competitive it is these days to land and keep a job, it can at times feel like you're just trying to keep your head above water. Here, some lessons on surviving a stressful work environment, courtesy of "The Hunger Games":

Know what you're good at and hone that skill

While training for the Hunger Games, Katniss is told to identify and strengthen a special skill. Katniss, who spent many-a-day hunting in the woods, is an ace with the bow and arrow, so she focuses on perfecting her archery prowess. This is not unlike the workplace, where having a key skill can set you apart from the competition. Let's say you work at an advertising agency but happen to be good at math; volunteer to help with the numbers side of the business. By mastering a job in which others on your team may not be as proficient, you position yourself as an indispensible employee.

Learn to easily adapt to changes

In the Hunger Games arena, things can change in an instant — one second it's hot and humid, and the next second the temperature plummets and snowflakes begin to fall. These environmental changes are meant to throw off the competitors and make them more vulnerable to attacks. Given today's volatile economy, things can change pretty quickly in the workplace. If you are willing to adapt — taking on extra projects to overcompensate for a staff shortage, doing work that's not traditionally part of your job — you'll show your boss you can handle anything that's thrown your way.

Seek out an untraditional mentor

In preparation for the Games, the tributes are assigned a mentor — someone from their District who fought, and won, a previous competition. Katniss's mentor is an aging, washed out, often-drunk man named Haymitch. At first Katniss worries that he'll do more harm than good, and he does have some untraditional training methods. But at the end of the day he turns out to be an intelligent, clever guide and an advocate for Katniss and her other District competitor, Peeta. Apply this knowledge to your own work situation. Oftentimes it's hard to talk to your manager, because you don't want to compromise your working relationship. Instead, seek out someone in your office whom you admire and can learn from but don't necessarily work with on a day-to-day basis. Invite him or her to coffee, and explain that you're looking to expand your internal network and learn from others who have different roles within the company. Chances are he or she would be happy to serve as your mentor and would likely find the relationship mutually beneficial. Having someone outside of your team that's on your side and willing to advocate for you may prove valuable, should you have issues with your boss — or your job — down the road.

Stand up for what you believe in (Caution: Spoiler alert!)

As mentioned earlier, Katniss volunteers to take her younger sister's place as the female District 12 tribute. Further along in the trilogy, Katniss spearheads a rebellion against the Capitol. While I'm not suggesting you stage an uprising against a nasty boss or slimy co-worker, don't be afraid to blow the whistle if you see something unethical occurring in the workplace. Speaking up is never easy, but you should feel comfortable confiding in a HR manager who can help develop a course of action. If handled the right way, you'll be helping yourself, your teammates and ultimately the company.

© CareerBuilder.com 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.

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