I’ve taken a brief three week hiatus from the blog due to a new job I recently started. Historically I’ve had great disdain for Corporate America. But I can’t lie, I’ve been excited about this particular position and company.
I graduated from college three years ago. And up until now, my professional life has been a struggle to say the least.
On a good day, my miserable bosses were out traveling and I had kind of interesting work to do.
On a bad day, I was bored out of my mind and tip toed around the office hoping to avoid ambush by rude managers I owed work to.
But on a typical day, it was just a 10 hour time-suck that barely covered my bills with 40 more years to go.
I never confided in co-workers, friends, family, or girls I dated about my unhappiness at work.
If I did, co-workers would peg me as a negative employee, friends would think I’m a bummer and be turned off, family would be burdened with worry, and girls I dated would be all of the above.
I just had to suck it up and keep fighting to find something better.
I recently got hired as an analyst at the corporate headquarters of one of America’s most successful companies. For corporate life, it’s probably as good as it’s going to get for my age.
After three years of low pay, abusive bosses, and mundane work, I’ve finally made it into a good job with a good company with a good team of people that I actually like and can relate to.
For the first time in my professional life, I’m motivated.
I’ve spent so much time being unhappy at work since I graduated, I started believing it was the only possible outcome. But there are good paying-jobs with good co-workers, and good management out there. You just have to struggle to find them. The struggle will make you appreciate the good. I’m more fortunate than most really. I know most people never find a good job.
But even though it’s good.. It’s still a traditional job. It’s still a set of terms dictating my physical presence from morning to evening. It’s still a roadblock standing in the way of hopping on a plane and jetting off to South America or Europe on a whim. It’s still a form of dependency and servitude.
And I know that once the newness wears off, even though I know I won’t be miserable like in my prior jobs, I’ll still feel like a man who isn’t free. An employee is a slave with good living conditions, and sometimes not even that.
A free man is someone whose work is a product of their passion. They work because they want to, not because they have to.
That being said, I’ll have to make do with a traditional job as a temporary solution until I can achieve entrepreneurial freedom.
Here are the three most important lessons I’ve learned in the three years I’ve been in the American workforce. These aren’t exactly ground-breaking, but I’ve blown these concepts off in my past jobs because I was unmotivated by shitty money and shitty management. I didn’t care enough to live up to them. If you don’t do these, you likely won’t make it very far.
1) Put in the Face-time
This is one of the main reasons that so many people hate corporate America. Putting in “face-time with the right people” can easily turn into brown-nosing if not done properly. But there is a difference between building relationships and sucking up. In one of my analyst jobs, I made the mistake of showing up and doing good work.. And that was all I did.
I didn’t go out of my way to swing by people’s offices and chat with them or just shoot the shit and ask how things are going. I did everything over email unless it was necessary to be face-to-face.
I worked under 4 different managers so it was basically like having 4 bosses that submitted feedback for my annual review. 3 of the 4 were nice decent people. But one of them was the most miserable human being I’ve ever worked with. When the miserable one led an effort to get rid of me. My other managers didn’t go to bat or put up much resistance. Fortunately I beat them to the punch and quit with good references before they had a chance to fire me.
2) People are the most important part
It doesn’t matter what you do if the people you work under suck. Even just one person can come into a team and fuck everything up. I once had a job where things were going pretty well for me. I enjoyed my days as much as one could sitting in a cubicle all day. I wasn’t miserable. Next thing I know I’m being introduced to a newly hired manager who quickly made my life a living hell. Everyone in the office knew she was an awful old hag, but since she was protected by a “higher-up”, her tyranny over lowly analysts such as myself went unchecked.
My reasonable complaints, concerns, and requests to get put on a different team were ignored. To my knowledge, she’s still at the same place tormenting twenty-somethings. The happiness of someone low on the totem pole is a non-issue to the people who have power in an office.
3) Positive attitude
If properly incentivized with fair pay and good management, then there’s no reason not to approach the work day with a positive mental attitude for as long as you’re there. Be sure you’re leaving people better than you found them. Emotions are contagious. Have a good energy and show a genuine interest in the work as well as getting to know the people you work with. My go-to questions to ask are simple. How’s your day going today? How’s the week treating you so far? Is there anything I can help with?
You don’t have to put on a grand performance every time you interact with someone, but you do want to make sure the majority of your interactions with co workers are pleasant and include some smiles and laughs.
4) Taking notes
In an office setting, a notebook should be by your side almost every time you leave your desk. Diligent note-taking is essential not just in the first 90 days but throughout your entire career. Try not to walk away from a casual meeting or working session without asking questions. There are often many different ways to complete a process, solve for something in Excel, or do some other part of your job. I always ask for feedback on the way I approached the work and ask how they would have approached it themselves to see if there is a better way.
I like to hand write notes in meetings and then type out the important parts on my computer later in the day. I use OneNote for work and Apple Notes for personal (to dos, habits to work on, book notes, ideas, etc.)
Like I said, none of this should come as particularly brilliant insight. These are simply a few of the most important factors when it comes succeeding at work. Nothing you ever learned in school will prepare you for success at work. People don’t fuck around since there is literally an endless supply of job candidates in line to replace you. At times, Corporate America is like navigating a minefield. You’ll need the right equipment, the right skillset, and a fair amount of luck or you’ll suffer some major setbacks in you life.
And if you really want to be an outlier, you hit the coffee shop in the evening every day to work on your side hustles and slowly chisel your way to freedom.