how to succeed at work
Years ago, after a month of unemployment when I was, for all intents and purposes, a professional writer I found that I started to miss my corporate consulting gig. I missed the contemplative time I had during my long commute. I missed the fear I felt as I walked into the lobby, past heavily armed police officers with assault weapons. I missed the early morning routine of standing in line before being run through a gauntlet of metal detectors and passing not one but three security checkpoints. The bitter instant coffee. The fluorescent lights! And the meetings, oh the meetings!
That’s enough sarcasm for one post. I started missing the big checks, but it took a while. If nothing else during that time period I saved $400+ on commuting costs a month. I got my final load of dry cleaned clothes from the cleaners, and I didn’t need to buy my lunch once because I’d been too lazy to pack one the night before. I had more time to spend with my kids and for the first time in years I’d actually slept until 7:00 am (until Little Buddy careened into our bedroom). I’d managed to start exercising again – albeit not on a regular schedule yet – and at that point I would have called unemployment an unqualified success.
You only need two things to succeed at your job. It doesn’t matter if your job is working retail, corporate consulting or even just being a stay-at-home parent. Everyone has “a job.” The vogue these days (at least in most of the blogs I read, which are a bit of a self-reinforcing bunch) seems to be to look down on jobs. I have written my fair share of articles expressing that view. Yet everyone has a job. Some people are luckier than others: their job pays more, or allows more free time or comes closer to the definition of an avocation than it does to the definition of a job.
The two things you need to succeed at your job are:
- the basic skills necessary for the job: You can’t be a plumber if you don’t know how to unclog a drain. You can’t be a lawyer if you can’t pass the bar. But you CAN be a good consultant if you can solve problems and present that solution clearly. You can do many jobs quite well with just the basic skills necessary for that job. If you can clear that minimum threshold with your skills, you can succeed… if you also have thing #2.
- a (net) enjoyment for what you’re doing: Forgive me for being an accountant. The idea of net enjoyment is probably peculiar to an accountant, but it’s an accurate description of a basic condition: the positives outweigh the negatives. Every undertaking in the world, be it a corporate job, an entrepreneurial endeavor or a family picnic has SOME positives and SOME negatives. The balance in one direction or the other is often quite clear, but sometimes it is close to balancing. The trick is to understand those close-to-balancing situations. Are you in a position, work-wise, where the positives outweigh the negatives? If not, do you see that situation reversing itself in the future? And if not, when are you quitting? Every day you have to make that assessment, considering the long tail of your work over the last few years, or even over your entire life – has it been, net, a good undertaking?
If you don’t have the basic skills for a job (be honest with yourself, but chances are you do since you’re doing it already), or you don’t have a net enjoyment for what you’re doing, I don’t think you’re going to get far. People who are highly skilled but hate their jobs don’t get far. People who are incompetent and love their jobs don’t get far, either. People who are moderately skilled and like what they do for a living can often do quite well. I don’t think they will be millionaires, necessarily, but they should be successful at that undertaking. Make sure you can assess your own skills, and your TRUE level of enjoyment for your work, and you’ll be able to make an accurate judgment as to whether you’ll succeed eventually – or not.