One of the first things I heard when I dove head first into the machine that is Corporate America. One of the first cardinal rules if I wanted to ‘make it in this game’: Cover your ass. This was my first taste of what I would later experience as the norm: a carnivorous culture of looking out for yourself and only yourself. Though not the most important, it set the mood for the many other lessons my inexperienced, innocent mind was apt to take in.
I was a fresh, young mind, and oh so eager to prove myself. I wouldn’t change, I silently reassured myself as I strode through my very first cubicle. I have plans, huge plans. This is only a stepping stone, my first real job after college and a chance to show the world what I’m about.
Looking back now, the last 3 years have given me situations I could never fully capture from a textbook. And even more so than that was how I reacted, or failed to react. Those choices that I still mull over pretty much define how I felt throughout the journey, never really 100% prepared nor ready for what comes but using the tools I’ve acquired to my best capabilities. And I’ll be straight with you, I still feel I fucked up and could have handled situations much better. I don’t say this with regret because what I learned about myself made the journey worth it. Let me share with these lessons with you:
Remember who you are & why you’re here
Wherever you go, whether you go the route of a 9-5 job or an entrepreneur, you’re going to run into many people.
Some will inspire you, some will help you, some will want to be your friend. Others may not give a shit, or be so caught up in the vicious cycle, that they inflict the same stab they may have once received.
I’m telling you know, so you don’t repeat my mistake.
Don’t let it.
Be ready for it; the mental games people play can cause a serious brain drain. Nothing sucks worse than having your hopes dashed by someone who’s seen the shitty side of the job and came out a disenfranchised veteran.
Picture the first day of your new job, or anything new. Remember your mind going in different directions, endless possibilities? Good. Now try to remember this when the monotony sets in. When you get thrown to the lions for not following directions to the T. When you spill your coffee on your desk,papers and all. When you forget why you’re doing this, remind yourself.
(For me, it was to go back to China. To finish my novel. To live on my own. One down!)
Oh, and about the veteran, a word of advice: Listen, but tread lightly. They may have insight on something you didn’t know about the industry you’re in. And even if not, they’re human, too. They may have been just like you once upon a time. It doesn’t hurt to care, just don’t let it turn you cold.
Your title means shit
If I’ve learned any piece of wisdom from working in corporate America, it’s most definitely the following: your title doesn’t mean jack shit. If your aim is to reach the top, you can:
A. Work hard, put in extra hours, work on the weekends, bust your ass, work harder, take the heat when your teammate messes up, share your knowledge with others, work even harder…you catch my drift
B. Do whatever is necessary, including but not limited to:
- taking credit for accomplishments that aren’t completely your own
- not acknowledging your crew
- throwing people in front of a bus to make you look more ‘responsible’
- ignore those on your level and kiss ass to people in higher positions
- blow your own horn whenever you can
- exaggerate what you’ve done
- point out others’ mistakes (and make sure EVERYONE knows)
C. Falsify your birth records so that you become the CEO’s long-lost 3rd cousin, thrice removed
If you chose answer A, then get ready for a long trip. Unfortunately, the methods in option A are often overlooked and are what keep people stagnant in progressing, for the most part. Long gone are the days when people put in their time and were bumped up by seniority. Today, there is more to it than that. The idea of ‘work smarter, not harder.’
The ‘B’s are the ones that are most encouraged and rewarded. Modern-day thinking dubs these under ‘ambition.’
To give everyone their fare share, ambition can be a great thing (when coupled with integrity).
However, the quick rise to the top doesn’t come without its hazards. A shark mentality may pave a way to a glossy new position and all its perks, but there are more inherent issues that new-age thinking doesn’t really touch on. Mainly they fact that you’re dealing with people, not cyborgs.
Respect doesn’t magically come from a cool new title after your name in your e-mail signature.
Let me rephrase that.
TRUE respect doesn’t magically come from a flashy new title after your name in your e-mail signature. TRUE respect is earned from how well you work (both on the job and on yourself) and how you treat others, especially those “below” you, not from the fluff after your name. Willfully opting to not give a shit about anyone but yourself can cause a great rift between you and others. You may have the ass-kissers lining up. Don’t ask how, but you’ll feel it, maybe in the form of a stare, or that ‘feeling’ you can’t explain. And once you’re up there, it can get pretty damn lonely.
If you chose C, well, good luck with that.
Personality goes a long way
…And you don’t have to be one charming m’f’ing pig, either. But seriously, what do I mean by this, you ask?
Thank – Remember the ones who helped you out, whether a small bind, a huge help, or took the blame for you, appreciation trumps entitlement. No one is guaranteed shit in this life. Show your thanks, don’t just say it.
Uplift – There are people like you who want to advance, and learn more. Why keep them down just to lift yourself up? This universe has enough success for everyone to go around, despite whether our ego thinks so or not. Empower someone to flex their leadership muscle. It’ll come back. Maybe not directly, or for a long time. But who knows whom you’ll inspire?!
Improve – The best thing you can do you for yourself is to invest in yourself. Perfection exists in the dictionary and in nature, but we humans lack it. And that’s good, you know why? Because the absence of perfection means that the potential to improve is unlimited and ever-present! Meaning you can always up your game, join a master class, link up with a group of like-minded peeps, c’est a toi…(it’s up to you!)
Own Up – The CYA culture I mentioned earlier is like the antithesis to this: accountability. Everyone wants to play the blame game but no one wants to lose. And for me, this was one of the hardest things to conform to. I. CAN. NOT. STAND. CYA! It’s petty and a huge waste of time (my two pet peeves). Do yourself a favor. Don’t play. If you mess up, fess up. I can say from experience that when I’d admit fault to something I did wrong, the reaction was never as terrible as I had pictured it in my head.
Collaborate – With the dog eat dog world and watching your back for knives, it may seem counterintuitive to look out for anyone but yourself.
But, look at it this way: The guy next to you. What do you really know about him? Has he done anything to betray your trust? I may be naive in saying this: It’s my belief that we are not that much different from each other. In the end, I believe we all basically want the same: to feel appreciated, to find love, to pursue what makes us happy, and to be happy. And sometimes along the way, we get caught up in a cycle that we never intended to entangle ourselves with. In our pursuit, we got caught up in the ‘temporary’ job. That ‘in the meantime’ type of flow. The few months becomes a year, the meantime becomes 5, and you look at your life and see that you just spent half of your life ‘in the meantime.’ Who wouldn’t be a disgruntled veteran after that?
We’re all in this together. Why not help each other get there? Maybe then, this CYA culture will slowly transform into something else: we’ll have to act, wait, and see.