In one of my previous articles about the things I learned in corporate America, my #1 point was about how easy it is to look good in today’s business environment. All you gotta do is show the hell up.
First, how dreadfully sad is that by the way? Just showing your pretty face in the office is enough in many cases to keep your name off the chopping block. The mere presence of your ass in that seat means you’re already ahead of so many of yours peers. The bar really is that low, isn’t it?
It’s true. I experienced this phenomenon both from the perspective of a low-level stooge (or as they say in corporate America, an “individual contributor”) as well as a high level manager. If you can manage to get up in the morning, dress yourself, make your way to your car, drive to work and meander your way through the office in search of your cubicle or office (and find it!), you’ve more or less found half of the secret to success.
And, I think congratulations are in order. Have a donut.
Okay, so this begs the question: If showing up is half the battle, what accounts for the other half?
Don’t be an asshole
The other half of this equation is actually quite simple: Just don’t be an ass. Instead, be a decent person. Smile once in a while. Help out your fellow co-workers rather than stab them in the back. Be someone that others genuinely look up to, not someone your business professor in college would use as an example of what not to be.
Going the extra mile (or taking the extra step, or whatever other buzz phrase happens to work in this scenario) pays dividends well beyond the additional effort involved in taking that step. With each step, you’re demonstrating to your coworkers and boss that being a productive member of the staff is actually important to you.
Which, by the way, isn’t as common as you might think.
Most of your coworkers don’t harbor any intentional ill-will towards the organization. But, they probably don’t care, either. A paycheck is a paycheck. Unfortunately, I fell into this trap during my career working in the information technology industry.
After graduating from college, I found myself with a well-paying job with a very large IT firm. At first, I was excited…not just to earn money, but to actually do something with my life and be a productive member of a team.
That lasted for a couple of years, tops.
Then, the industry slowly but surely drained the life out of me. Soon, it was all I could do to just drag my butt into work every day to pay for all those toys at home that distracted me from my wholly unfulfilling life. I went to work, did as little as I could throughout the day, then went home. It worked for years. I accomplished enough for the organization to rationalize my paycheck – until one Friday where I was called into my boss’s office.
I got laid off! Well, sorta not really
After six years with the company, I was given my layoff notice. This, by the way, was just about a year after buying my first home in the suburbs. To say that I was merely “shocked” would be a rabid understatement. I had no idea what I was going to do. There were other jobs in town, but how many would pay me what I was being paid here? And the interviews? The stress?
Luckily, I walked down the hall and talked with one of my former project managers. He seemed surprised by the news and said that his project would cover me. And boom! I once again had a job. Crisis averted.
But, more than just saving my job, I finally realized that I was missing the other half of the secret to success. I had the showing up part down. I basically always went into work. I took very little time off because, frankly, I had nothing better to do with my time. Might as well go into work.
It was the asshole part. Okay, I was never a jerk to my coworkers. On the contrary, I tried my very best to be as agreeable as possible. To smile. To generally not be a drain on the office. Unfortunately, my utter lack of interest in what I was doing was showing more plainly than Janet Jackson’s boob during that awkward “wardrobe malfunction” (shown below for completeness).
I didn’t do a good enough job at the other half, and it eventually caught up with me. Though I never was laid off, I was this (holding pointer and thumb a millimeter apart) close. Way too close for comfort.
And so, I changed my ways.
I forced myself to care, and over the years of attacking the other 50% of the success equation, eventually rose the ranks from one of those “individual contributors” to the Director of Information Technology. Although I didn’t enjoy being the director, I still got the chance to find that part out for myself. It felt good.
But still – success in corporate America is not difficult. Just like financial independence, it’s not rocket science. It just takes time. It takes months and years of dedicated service to the cause. Over time, things happen. The habits you build become more solid, and things start to build on top of themselves – just like compound interest in the market.
That’s right…compound interest isn’t just about money. The very same logic works in almost every other facet of your life, too. You aren’t starting from ground zero any more.
P.S.: Today, we are traveling to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a family vacation. I aim to come back to the states sun-parched and golden brown, ready to endure what remains of this long, harsh Arizona winter that sent high temperatures plummeting into the 70s yesterday. 🙂
Here, this is a shot from one of our previous trips to Puerto Vallarta. Just a simple sunset. It’s all good.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.