How to Nuke Your Career in 3 Easy Steps
I asked a good friend of mine Jay Feitlinger about how I should handle my social media. He gave me some great advice. Thus begins this series of posts about my journey from individual contributor to industry founder. One of my all time favorite book titles was by Colin Powell titled, “It worked for me.”.
My take on this phrase is somewhat different. Call it, “This was my journey.” I hope that sharing my path helps you find your path to a future you find fulfilling.
Before you begin: Know great change comes from great pain
One of the worst pains you can feel is the pain of rejection. Perhaps it’s the rejection of your ideas, or simply the rejection of yourself personally. For most people professionally that comes in the form of being told “you can’t work here any more.” Being payed off is one lesser form of that pain. It’s not personal. It’s the company that has the problem. Sometimes this generates enough pain to motivate change, but not always. A higher form is when it’s personal. No, the company is fine, “You’re the problem.” That takes on a particularly acute flavor when you believe you were the one holding everything together. Everyone else gets to stay, but not you. You have been voted off the island.
How do you make such a thing happen? Honestly there are lots of ways, but in my experience here is a surefire 3-step formula that can set you on the path to having your future freed by the people that pay you.
Career Step 1: Get so good at what you do, you stop seeking feedback
When you work really, really hard at getting good at your professional craft, people will start to come to you for advice. This feels great. And it’s natural you want to share what you have worked so hard to learn. But somewhere along the way that advice sharing can trickle into advice giving. Especially if your experience and hard work are rewarded with managerial responsibility. You can drift from guiding people to critiquing them almost without notice. But even if you haven’t been given a managerial title with direct reports it is not hard to sail into the isolating sea of self-importance.
When you have immersed yourself in brilliantly self righteous judgment of the work that goes on around you, above you, and below you, you have mastered step one. You can proceed to step two.
Career Step 2: Believe that apologizing works all the time
I think most of us as rational human beings realize there are two major modes of communication, rational and emotional. The problem is that most of us give them equal weight. If your hard-won expertise and organizational authority have elevated your decision and judgmental skills to the point where you put an extraordinary weight on your own rational thoughts you will no doubt have experienced the feeling of surprise that comes when other people (shockingly) do not agree with you.
Inspired by the need to do “what is right” you no doubt tried to set those poor misguided souls straight (for their own benefit and the benefit of the company). Of course, occasionally some people got their feelings hurt, which you do feel bad about, so you apologize. That fixed it right?
As my father once wisely told me, you can put too many nails in a tree. Even if you pull them out, the scar tissue over time will still kill the tree. Pulling out the nail does not alleviate you of the responsibility for having pounded it in with your ego hammer in the first place.
When your apologizing starts matching your advice giving in quantity and quality, you have mastered step 2. You are prepared for step 3.
Career Step 3: Forget who you are really working for
I once told a friend, you have to know your constituents. We’ve all heard, “you can’t please everyone” but strangely they don’t tell you who you are supposed to please. Without a clear answer most people elect to try and please the group they are standing in front of at any particular moment.
A brilliant, cutthroat, and ruthless manager I once worked for told me, “you can be the kind of manager who the team despises but if you deliver the results you are okay. Or you will be okay if you are the kind of manager people love but struggles to deliver. But you can’t be a manager the team despises and can’t deliver the results.”
In my experience all three of those “ideals” are somewhat flawed (that guy got fired and that company is now bankrupt) but within that really strange advice was a key idea. I learned that different groups inevitably drift into conflict. Remember the phrase is, “if you are not with us, you are against us.” This seems to be the rule for groups, not the exception. Please note that the phrase “if you are not for me, you are against me” has a very different connotation. It is either a great presidential slogan or paranoia. Or both. The lesson? Individuals can be crazy but groups always think they are rational.
I am a fairly sarcastic person by nature, but all of those blogs with formulas to success often overlook the reality that the worst mistakes you can make often arise out of your best efforts. You work really hard to get good at something, people recognize that, and you unwittingly drift into becoming an annoying know it all.
Powered by your great confidence, you start upsetting people as you try to help them. Apologizing – which worked so well as a kid – has little or no effect in the corporate work place.
Finally, in your effort to juggle complex requirements and competing interests – you repeatedly compromise to meet the constraints – something engineers and gamers do all the time to achieve their goals. Only in company politics this makes you look disloyal, flaky, or at best wishy-washy.
How can hard work and good intentions go so wrong? The good news is that the result of your hard work is often a “freed future” and some highly charged emotional energy that maybe, just maybe, might be enough to fuel the change you have been seeking all along.
Because in my experience, people that follow this formula are rarely happy and satisfied. It’s frustrating when hard work and best efforts are rewarded with emotional conflict and negative feedback. At the end of this road lies change and quite possibly fulfillment.
Follow the above 3 steps and you are almost certainly guaranteed a chance to find out what a new career will feel like. It worked for me. Share with me what has worked for you and any comments or questions you have below.