One of the truest things I learned from the internet is Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.
It’s true of movies. TV shows. Literature. People. Yes, even well-intentioned business articles meant to help you move on and up in the corporate world. It’s appalling to see the kinds of things people try to pass on as legitimate business advice.
But fret not. Your favorite know-it-all is here to drop some knowledge. Today we’re talking about career suicide.
The ways to avoid career suicide should be common sense; but common sense simply isn’t common enough – not because we’re dumb or anything, but because most of the time we don’t stop to think deeper about these things we take for granted. Then when shit hits the fan and you end up walking out of the building with your head bowed and your belongings in a carry-sized box, someone’s going to hear the whole story of how you dropped the metaphorical toaster into the bathtub, and they’re going ask you in a slightly exasperated tone, “Y U DO DIS?”
There are volumes to be written about the Y U DO DIS-es of the workplace, but to sum it up –
DIS 3 THINGS TO AVOID:
This sly devil is like a termite infestation. The first time you spot it, you’re mildly alarmed because you know it shouldn’t be there; but then you reason with yourself – it’s just one small thing. How bad can it be? You have enough common sense to know when it’s becoming a problem.
But you don’t as much as I don’t. And if we don’t quash these little wood-rotting imps, it’s only a matter of time before the structure comes crashing down on us.
It starts off with the little things: Rounding off figures. Subtly rephrasing goals in your proposal to fit the final output. Stretching the definition of claimable expenses. Shifting the blame onto someone else.
While these won’t necessarily end up with government officials showing up to investigate à la The Wolf of Wall Street, there’s a stink that comes with dishonesty that people can sense, even if they aren’t the victims of it. Some well-intentioned business articles would advise you to outright lie about your ability in order to get the job, usually accompanied with a rousing story of how one man’s ballsiness paid off in the end – but do not be misled by survivorship bias. For every person who succeeded by lying at first, there are 9 or 99 others who failed spectacularly whose stories are never told.
Be honest. Be honest. Be honest. This is so important that ancient Israelites figured it out thousands of years ago and had it carved into stone blocks. And if that’s not a convincing argument for the virtues of honesty, I don’t know what is.
If I may compare a career to a car, being an honest person is the first step: Letting go of the handbrake. You can probably move forward without doing this, but it’s going to seriously damage your vehicle, and the acrid trail you leave behind will be there for all to smell it.
As much as most of us would like to believe that we give respect where respect is due, the truth is more likely that we don’t show half as much respect as we should.
A big deal is said about being respectful to the janitor or the waitress. But being respectful is not something you do, it’s something you are. People can smell a liar from a mile away, and if you’re only respectful in certain situations and disrespectful in others, it only exposes you as a fraud.
Consider these: Are you respectful to the server who got your order wrong, or did you give him the tongue-lashing he had coming his way? Are you respectful to that weird guy in the office that nobody likes, or do you join in the gossip along with everyone else? Do you respect the person who shows you no respect, or is your respect conditional like everyone else’s?
While it is your choice concerning whom you’d like to respect and when, this choice is what will set you apart from the crowd… Or blend you in with them.
I hope this doesn’t come across as me taking the moral high ground, because I’m just as susceptible to the snare of being a disrespectful little shit, probably even more than the next person. But if something is true, it needs to be said.
Respect is about being patient. Kind. Forgiving. True respect is part of who you are, and that sometimes involve tolerating the glaring faults of others, laying down your ego, and even being the first to apologize before it’s clear whose fault it is.
One quick tip on effective apology before we move on – it’s been said that a good apology consists of 3 parts: the admission of guilt (“I’ve messed up.”); the demonstration of being aware of the fault (“I should have doubled checked the amount before sending it off.”); and the promise of change (“It won’t happen again.”).
If being honest is like letting go of the handbrake, being respectful is like stepping on the gas pedal: It’ll take you places.
The most business-savvy man I know had this to say about the secret of maintaining a good professional reputation:
Because we’re talking about building a career rather than keeping a job, you’ll want the esteem of others to follow you like an expensive fragrance, and there’s no better way to do that than to consistently pleasantly surprise.
How do you do that? It sometimes means to pass on a job you’re not sure you can commit to. It sometimes means saying no to an opportunity because you’ve already said yes to another one. It sometimes means pushing and challenging yourself to deliver something better than “good enough”. It means you’ll have to be careful to whom you give your word, because your reputation is only as good as your promise.
Remember, remember the words of the ever-wise and all-knowing Ron Swanson: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
Christopher Nolan is a Hollywood legend for two main reasons. The obvious reason is that he’s an incredible storyteller, we all know that. The other lesser-known reason is this: He always completes his movies on time and under budget. He doesn’t only make his audiences happy by making movies; he makes his bosses happy by making money. And that’s more than can be said about a great many people.
Of course it’s inevitable that you’ll end up disappointing someone somewhere along the lines. It’s only human. But think about it this way: If you disappoint only once for every 4 times you pleasantly surprise, that still gives you an 80% approval rating. Which isn’t bad at all.
So if being honest is like letting go of the handbrake and being respectful like stepping on the gas pedal, being a person who constantly delivers on a promise is like manning the steering wheel: It’ll help you maneuver and take you where you want to be.
Take this article as advice on both avoiding career suicide and advancing your career. The two need not be separate things. And when you read the next business article that advocates being a phony in order to get ahead, do me a favor and flame the shit out of it.
Because this world needs more successful people who are also decent people at heart.
It’s actually not that hard at all