Hard work. It’s great in theory, but the years I spent meandering my way through corporate America taught me that success very rarely resembles the fluffy fairy-tale idea that success comes to those who “work hard”. Or even “smart“.

More times than not, success comes to those who ask for it.

If you think that you are ready for a promotion, ask for it. “But it’s outside of our promotion cycle,” you may retort. Who cares. Ask for it anyway. Your employer recognizes those who are proactive. Even if you don’t get a promotion immediately, the seed has already been planted. You’re setting the course.

Hard work is bullshit.

Okay, not entirely bullshit: If you come into work an hour late and twiddle your thumbs all day, you probably aren’t going to get a promotion. In fact, you should feel damn lucky that you even have a job. You do need to be at least somewhat productive. A positive contributor. A reason to collect a paycheck. As I wrote about before, it doesn’t take all that much to look good at work these days.

The idea that if you work hard, “success will come to you” is devastatingly attractive, but does not represent how businesses promote their staff. I used to be in the position to promote until I demoted myself. I’ve seen this work first hand – from both sides.

Success does not become you

Waiting for success to happen is a game that we will lose almost every time. Don’t wait for things to happen TO YOU. Instead, go after what you want. Be proactive and be sure that your employer knows your professional goals. Give them a reason to promote you. Quit waiting for good things to happen.

The longer you wait, the steeper your climb to the top.

Here, let’s get more specific.

Want success? Ask for success!

Good things come to those who ask for them. It’s remarkable. In fact, about half of my promotions and raises throughout my working career in corporate America have come as a result of me asking. Asking means you’re serious. It shows your organization that you are a productive team player who wants to contribute more (or feels undervalued). Either case can be incredibly persuasive.

Before you ask, be sure to understand the following tips.

Know what you want

Before asking for success, know what success means to you. For example, do you really want a management position? If so, know what you’re getting yourself into – at least to the best of your ability. Picture yourself doing the job, not just enjoying the title. I fell into this trap, and trust me, it was a painful lesson! More on this tip below.

Be confident

Believe you’re the best motherf-er in the room. Seriously, believe it. Those who exude confidence are natural leaders. It shows. Even if you’re wrong, the confidence to make a decision and pursue it full force is what separates followers from leaders. Remember: I’m talking about confidence, not arrogance. Don’t be a prick. This isn’t about talking over people or shutting down conversation or debate. In fact, it’s the opposite. Start the conversation and lead the debate with respect and honesty. Engage those around you and get them involved.

Basically, do what leaders [should] do, even if your official title doesn’t include “manager” or “director”…yet.

Act like the person you want to be

If you want to be the leader, act like the leader. Don’t ask for a promotion into management and then continue doing what you’ve always done. Take the initiative. Volunteer to help your coworkers. Brainstorm ideas. Offer your suggestions. Be up front about your willingness and ability to lead. Help your manager in any way that you can. Most people are all talk and very little action. Make it obvious you’re about action by separating yourself from the pack.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came at one of my former jobs. I asked for a promotion into a position that sat vacant, but the organization was not ready to make a change – yet. I asked what I can do NOW to better equip me for the promotion later. The answer I got was simple and direct: “Pretend you have the job“. I stepped up and accepted the responsibility of that position before I even had it. Within a couple of months, the position was mine. True story.

Do not fear failure

Those who are afraid of failing rarely get to where they want to be. The reason is simple: When people fear failure, they resist taking risks. They refuse to put themselves out there. They remain huddled in their comfort zone waiting for something to happen to them.

This natural but devastating habit keeps us from taking risks and going after what we want out of fear that things might not work out perfectly. I have a secret to tell you: Perfection is unattainable, so stop trying to get there. You WILL fail. It is a natural part of life. I’ve failed. My neighbor has failed. We ALL have failed. It happens. Get over that fear – fast.

If you want something bad enough, go-the-fuck-after-it. Make it happen. If you fail, you fail. Big deal. Try again next time.

Be prepared to back it up!

If you stroll into your manager’s office to ask for a raise, be ready to back up your argument with facts. Pick out the times where you went the extra mile to help on a project. Those 60-hour weeks should count for something. That uncompromising deadline that you met? The report you pulled out of your ass but knocked the socks off of that client? The new business you brought in? Yeah, this stuff.

Before meeting with your manager, know your facts. Rehearse. Play devil’s advocate and practice your answers to likely questions or concerns from your manager. Also, decide what you’re willing to compromise on. If you ask for a $10,000 raise but only get $5,000, is that good enough? Be direct, firm and confident.

Don’t look stumped.

Remember: Even if you don’t get what you want immediately, the seed has already been planted. Your manager knows what you want, and organizations tend to have more flexibility in how they promote than they care to admit. If your manager is afraid to lose you, he or she may go to bat for you to make sure you get what you want during the next raise cycle.

If a promotion comes down to a choice between two equal people, the person who asked for it will nearly always get it. Guaranteed.

Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it

I wrote about my high-level IT directorship position before, but it is appropriate to rehash here. At the time, I spent the last eight years of my working career as a follower. I was ready for additional responsibility, and there was a sea change in the organization. The position was mine because I asked for it.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that high-level management isn’t for me. I hated answering questions to unknown problems. The organization wanted commitments to unreasonable projects and demanded acceptance to policies and procedures built by those without a shred of information technology experience. Some days, it was grueling. And, my staff had no idea.

The performance reviews were mind-numbing. My staff didn’t care because it was a check in the box. I didn’t care because it was a check in the box. Human Resources didn’t care because it was a check in the box. Management nonsense, day after day. Paperwork. Problems. Meetings. Coercion.

I was blinded by the title. I wanted to try my hand at being “the guy”. To call the shots. To make the decisions. Finally, to be the guy that everyone else smiled around.

Management isn’t for me. I tried it. I could not get on-board with doing that job for the rest of my life. I left my position and pursued a work-from-home job that paid better and lead me straight into retirement. I decided what I wanted and I went after it.

Moral of the story? Be careful what you ask for. Whether it’s more money, a promotion or anything else, be prepared to do the job. To put up or shut up. You may have a whole new set of problems to content with. More responsibilities. Later nights. Longer weeks. More travel.

You get the idea. Be prepared.

Edit: Based on a comment from Mr. Tako Escapes, I feel compelled to mention that some organizations may retaliate against your request for more money. While in my personal experience this has been the exception rather than the rule, it can happen. Know your organization well. I might argue that if your organization would retaliate against your request, it may not be the right place for you anyway.

Have you ever asked for a raise or a promotion? If so, how did it go?

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