I've worked at more companies than I can count on fingers and toes. What started as "my career" quickly evolved into more of a buffet meal rather than a prix fixe. To say that I've overlapped projects, contracting, part-timed it, and worked full time bouncing around like a ill-volleyed ping pong ball is an understatement.
I am largely, unemployable, while concurrently employed.
Many older career books and about 75% of the parents of my generation of friends whom I speak with often advise me with a "tisk-tisk" whenever I feel that rumble of complacency sink in. In the past, I've literally felt nauseous looking at pay stubs knowing how a frustrated "past me," tear-streaked-faced-my-way into a promotion at my one and only corporate job--more than once. I complained, problems weren't addressed, and problems got worse, and I then I get promoted? There is no mentor or career book that can equip you with the right advice at this point. It shouldn't work like that...should it? Those who co-create the solutions with calm and ease should get the promotion and raises right? I'm not ego-driven, but I can tell you, my soul felt bruised, and all of the color dropped away from my days.
"It's the way work is, that's why it's called work!"
"You should be counting your lucky stars that you have a job in this economy!"
Admonished, for feeling malaise, soul-crushing boredom, and disrespect from people I mutually respect and treat well. And yet, a constant feedback loop of SMART goals and reviews that never came back with anything less than "a very positive team player." Something didn't add up. Why did it feel so grossly wrong in the pit of my stomach each morning if I'm doing everything that I'm told to do to be "successful" and climb that corporate ladder and actually "succeeding"?
Why the hell can't I stay in one work place for longer than a year without this "yuck" sinking into my arteries, clogging every happy bone in my body?! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Now I know, that it doesn't have to be this way, and I will explain if requested a bit about my background and story and the types of conversations I have to battle the toughest of workplace conflict and problems. I'll talk about how my two male managers made me learn how to compromise and play nice with the office B**** even though I was scared poop-less to do so after she reamed me via email. I'll talk about finding compromise with a team spreadout across the country involving egotistical sales people fearing firing and engineers with what some would call socially-challenged nuances* (*my words, but not sentiment--I love engineers, end of story--all of them).
I've come to realize that, I'm an entrepreneur. Not because i chose it, but because it chose me. Most employees are happy to show up earlier a few days a week when review time comes up, they stock pile their vacation, too afraid to leave their positions exposed, and they fondly reflect on their paid health benefits and paychecks clearing their banks twice each month or so. Most successful employees: they don't care. Most people don't care like I care. Most people don't take it personally and pick up extra roles and hats to "make something profitable," but I do. And as of yet, no meditation in the world has led me to the "off-switch" yet.
Most employed people don't care like I do, and if they do, boy do they hide it well. I know the steep decline of revenue numbers faster than the CEO in some cases. I know when a new manager is going to usurp newly opened "job recs" with their favorite team members from their previous jobs. I know when someone is talking shit behind my back about my work style, ethic, or product. I've even picked up when people actually go and take a...number two in the shared office bathroom. And yet, I also know that my numbers, go up--my work translates into revenue and profit for the companies I work for every year. And I consistently receive "she has an incredibly positive attitude and is easy to work with" on countless reviews. It sure does feel awful in my stomach to be this damn positive all the time.
So what gives? Well, before I go deeper into any one particular story or the other, I'd like to first offer a collection of tips to provide solace if you too, find the common American office-place to be someone, less ideal than you ever imagined. If your work-soul needs a hug, read on.
A guide for ambitious women:
What helps me succeed at work when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing
1. Think before you send
Draft it, bitch about it to your girlfriends, complain about it to your partner, talk to your manager if you trust them enough, shoot, even script out your in-person confrontational response in your journal. But don't you dare, ever, and I mean never, send that email while you're experiencing an intensely negative emotion. Email as a whole, is an inefficient tool for communication. It is not a way to express yourself. Email is for follow up, keeping a record of communication, and a helpful project management tool, but don't ever use it as a means to express how you feel. Ever.
2. , Bitching someone out can always wait until tomorrow
Go to bed. No seriously, create an outlook appointment reminder to "worry about so-and-so at 3pm tomorrow" or to "bitch so-and-so out at 2pm tomorrow", but do not choose to bitch someone out while you're feeling the emotions rise. Take a personal day off, call in sick, work from home, or just take a nap for 20 minutes in your car (roll your windows down though!). I've only ever bitched out two people to their face at work. One guy and one gal. Also, the guy, it wasn't even about work, it was about sports tickets he stiffed me on and didn't answer my phone calls about when challenged. It makes you look bad and well, logically, any of us can be argued to seem "right" or "wrong", but when you bitch someone out, you just look like a loser. That doesn't mean stifle your feelings, just deal with the emotions first, then handle your confrontation strategy, or just decide to forgive and move on. This originally is advice via Ben Casnocha via his writing about Warren Buffet.
3. Fearlessly defend anyone who reports directly into you
Change the subject when someone expresses an ill opinion of your intern. Deflect the conversation when your junior associate is being discussed around you. Highlight all of the awesome, and most challenging items your recruits work on, all the time, often, to every higher up imaginable. This is what creates trust and happy employees. If I hired them, or if I inherited them, they...are...MINE! They are my troops, and if they fail, I've failed. If they are happy, and we're all meeting our numbers, then they get all of the credit, each and every time. I don't care if it makes me look weak to my higher up, and I don't care that men don't give credit to "the team" more often and women often don't "take enough credit for themselves, while deflect credit to the team." I'm nothing without my recruits, I have no job if I have no interns. No troops, no war.
4. Encourage feedback regularly, and take some of it to heart
If I'm not authentically admitting my weaknesses (Interviewer: "what's your greatest weakness?" Interviewee: "I sometimes care too much. Profitability really matters to me, and sometimes it's hard for me to turn that off."). No. No, no, no, I will no longer diplomatically express my strengths into "false weaknesses" that are actually hugely desirable nuggets the hiring middle-management folks droll over. I admit it now.
Correct response: "As you can see my resume is quite the cornucopia of experiences, places, and environments. I'm adaptable with proven results to show for that, on the other hand, take a look at how much time I've spent at each place of employment. I think it's best, if you find there is a fit between me and the role that you're looking to hire, that we consider taking it one six month period at a time with specific, meaningful projects and objectives to achieve within each time-frame. I've noticed that you're interested in user acquisition, let's discuss a ten hour project we work on first to determine the scope and objectives on increasing user engagement and then evaluate how comfortable you feel moving forward."
It takes balls, lady-balls, and hutzpah to communicate like this and you know what? My managers feel good about giving me feedback as a result. We lay the groundwork out, and can assess weaknesses, and we design the project nimbl-y enough to manage weaknesses. My real weakness is that, I get bored, and I get nervous to admit it to management. Sometimes it's nice when it's a boring week at work and you leave early two days a week. But if you feel like you have no impact, and you can't advance, I'd rather complete my work in two hours and head to the beach for the rest of the day. Or rather, start another project for pay elsewhere.
That being said, I make it a rule to leave organizations where one person's opinion of me matters more than my single, one, direct manager's opinion matters of me. That to me is toxic, thinly veiled workplace bullying, and a sign of a serious need for management training and improvement.
5. Always change your energy first, then act
If you sit all day, go for a walk. It'll be hard to motivate, but the rewards are palpable. If you run around all day, take a nap, also strange, and guiltily delicious. If you are emotionally charged, you must make it your responsibility to improve your energy before entering into conflict. If you must act, to respond to pressing client demands, you must practice improving your energy every opportunity you get, and offer a "wrap-up" discussion to assess previous situations where you've "acted out." Acting out can include, purposely avoiding important phone calls, blaming and naming and shaming in email (in bold, red font), talking or gossiping behind someone's back, and so on. Are you hungry? Then eat a healthy snack if you regularly skip meals, sleep, walk, read a magazine in your car. You must improve your energy to believe your own prescription and evaluation of events.
6. We can't control Karma, whether it exists or not
Sometimes bad things happen to good people, often in fact. Sometimes bad people have nothing but good in their lives, and they, as evil people, live happily ever after. If you believe in Karma, know that your actions cannot translate into karmic retribution for past wrongs. Karma only exists in retrospect, we can't plan it, if it exists at all. Life just isn't fair sometimes, sometimes "bad people" never "get theirs." And that's OK actually. There is a very wonderful saying I like to remember: "When you get in the mud with a pig, you get dirty, and the pig gets happy." When you try to "play games" with bad people, they enjoy the challenge and interaction, and you just end up looking dirty and foolish. Keep to high level, factual, and minimal communications, change teams, change jobs, but know you cannot escape evil, toxic people entirely, but you sure can make every attempt to do so.It's much better than revenge.
I once "slipped" into one presentation, for a client that a chronic-last-minute-lucy sales rep requested from me for a convention center, mock ups that included a lesbian event company as a possible audience target. While I know I was right, this was a potentially excellent target market, I purposely put in this non-neutral mock to act as my signature that I was angry that I was asked at the last minute to complete this task when the "false emergency and late night" could have been avoided. But you know what? I ended up updating and re-doing the whole document early the next morning after an angry and direct phone call with the sales rep, and no one got "in trouble." Ultimately, I cared too much about the deal to sabotage it, and I learned that...revenge never feels as satisfying two steps removed from the event itself.
7. You may sense your more intelligent than someone else
Smart women are not praised in the American culture or workplace. Please send me examples if you find otherwise. As a smart, capable woman, you will find that, not everyone is honest with how they have found themselves in a role as your manager, or a client may not be aware that you genuinely have their best interests in mind for their profit margins with your suggestions. You may wish to take many approaches, but I will say that, I've relied many times in my life to the act of "playing less than." It works, I wouldn't have tried to "act dumber than I was" if it didn't work. It's less threatening to those around us when we keep our challenging, yet good, smart suggestions to ourselves.
Better still is to choose to be the smart, talented, and ambitious woman that you are and take life as it comes for offering your brilliant solutions. Be sure to always give credit to whomever you report into if it works out. Also, the art of "planting the seed" of brilliant ideas, cannot be dismissed in this conversation either. It's ok to choose not to get credit, so long as that is your choice. It's ok to defer acknowledgement, if it's for a greater good. Don't get used to playing dumb. Period. Take the risk to experiment what it's like to have your ideas taken or ridiculed. Do this, so you learn the dance of planting seeds and watching some of them bloom. Be patient with those less intelligent than you, they have gifts they can offer, find those gifts. Unwrap each person's gifts.
8. Acknowledge that few rich people are happy people
What is rich? This question created the personal financial book market for centuries. A rich life, has something to do with money, but more money rarely fixes money problems. Look at rich people, do they look happy? If a rich person disrespects you, can you imagine that that person is genuinely happy? I mean all the money in the world, and they have to take their vitriol out on their two second interaction with you today? Because money only enhances: enhances the good behaviors and enhances the bad behaviors. It's the reason why so many lottery winners and celebrities declare bankruptcy time and time again. Bankruptcy certainly does not make us "happy," rich and poor alike.
So now that we know money won't solve all of our problems and make us happy, what will solve our problems and make us happy? You have to first understand that only you can solve your own problems. Sure others can help, but it has to come from you and you first.
9. How to get rich: Dream, Data, Decide
So you to get rich, get a better job, stop your endless shopping sprees, or at least not go into debt over them huh? Well, take a moment, schedule it in to do one.
You have to dream, you have to have a good energetic vibe to dream. Hate your job? Take a day, an hour, or a minute, to dream about what your perfect job will look like.
Then start tracking, maybe it's just green smilie faces each day your enjoy your job "overall", this isn't scientific, but mark the days you feel "good" at the end of the day. Also, mark with a red frownie face days you feel lethargic, angry, or upset about your work. Over time, tally your percentage of happy days against your percentage of sad days. Start to see if there are any trends or interactions that keep coming up which result in a "red frown face day." Start to tackle those trends and interactions with any books or internet research and practice on your friends your scripts for how you will request change and act differently than you already have. Get your green smile face percentage up, or....
Then decide, do you stay with a 20% happy face rate? Or do you leave? You've complained, you've tracked the data, you experimented with different approaches, now you must decide. Each time you decide, you get better at this process, and rich people are rich by the decisions they make over time. There are only "rags to riches stories" because it's hard to ever pinpoint a "rags to riches moment." It's a subtle process that starts with a dream, some data to compare the "now" versus the dream, and then a decision.
10. The other "D's"
The only other options you have in life, rich or poor, are the other two "D's". You can't "unknow" the Dream, Data, Decide cycle now that I've outlined it here and you've read this far. You can't erase your knowledge of this infinite cycle. You, from here on forth, have only two options outside of Dream, Data, Decide:
Disaster or Die
If you cease to Dream and do something about it, you either wait for Disaster to come along and help with change, or you Die. Neither have to happen instantaneously, but will happen over time. It's the reason why my Dad, diagnosed with Type II diabetes, is now struggling to get in shape and change his diet. "Sugar, it's been a good run," I told him when he confessed his recent diagnosis. We all knew. We knew his diet was poor and his physical activity as a software product management savant that sitting all day and eating poorly could only last so long. His diagnosis was his "Disaster." Disasters force change upon us, willing or not.
And if you're not willing? That's the final D.
I think we can all agree, that Dreaming is a great place to start from here.
A client of mine recently took my team out for Burgers and wine in exotic car storage warehouse the other day. It reminded me of the last time this married 40 year old came into our office with his 17-year-old intern to drop off the check he owed us. We were forced to give her life advice since, it seemed that she might need it given her current employer. We thought to tell her all about HR policies and dealing with life as it comes as she prepares to go off to college in the fall. To which our client ended the conversation with this brilliant statement:
"Remember the Iditarod. In the Iditarod, all of the dogs in the famous race have the same view. Except for the lead dog. The leader of the pack is the only one who sees the oncoming scenery change, and all the others, are just staring at other assholes."
You have to choose to be different, choose to be you.