“If you find something better, go for it”.
This was the best piece of career advice I’ve ever received. At the time, my department at Time Inc. had gone through a reorg, leaving me in a situation I wasn’t pleased with, and my then manager Heather could sense it. I’ll admit that rather than being a “good” employee and rolling with the punches, I was instead a bit disruptive because I felt undervalued and overlooked by upper management. However, I liked Heather and she was very empathetic. One day, she pulled me into a conference room and offered that simple, yet impactful advice, and 3 weeks later, I started a new role at Showtime.
Honestly, I haven’t received much valuable guidance in my career (and I went to a top-tier business school in NYU). Instead, I experienced the bumps and bruises, learning the harsh truths on my own. Maybe that’s why I enjoy giving career advice to others, especially to younger folks, because I feel like it’s my duty to share a realistic point of view. It’s a jungle out there in the work world, so wouldn’t it be more helpful to be aware of the obstacles that lay ahead?
Heather’s words stuck with me due to its powerful underlying message: even when I felt like powerless to corporate bureaucracy, I was still in control. Yes, the company pays my salary which funds my livelihood, but if I wasn’t happy with my current situation, I have the power to change it. This is the golden moment in your career when you realize that you’re no longer a lowly peon who’s trying to gain credibility and approval from others, but rather a valuable professional resource who commands respect. Think LeBron James and how he has the Cleveland Cavaliers at his mercy. There comes a point where you understand your worth and it’s totally empowering.
Over the last several years, I’ve somehow become a counselor for others, as I occasionally get messaged by friends, colleagues, or even random strangers for tips how to maneuver one’s career. Rather than telling people what to do, I share my personal experiences and how I approached things, but ultimately it comes back to the importance of being in control. We spend a 25% of our existence working, so why allow others to dictate your progress and direction? Especially when the company can scrap you at any time or move you like a pawn. Jay Z agrees with me, just listen to 4:44 and hear how often he touches on being an owner of various aspects of your life.
I do realize that having more experience, skills, and relationships makes reaching this perspective easier because those 3 elements create leverage, but being in control also means standing up for your best interests and that can happen at any job level. Figure out what’s very important to you (title, function, industry, pay) and make it known. A closed mouth never gets fed. If you’re unhappy with your jobs, work hard to pad that resume with relevant skills so it helps you find the next gig. A couple years ago, I wrote “An Underdog’s Job Search” immediately after my final round interview with Showtime. The tone of the piece was raw and aggressive, as I was writing with a chip on my shoulder. I might come off as arrogant, but I know what I wanted, and ultimately I think that’s what helped me got the job.
At the moment, I find myself at the familiar crossroads of another company reorg where the future is a bit ambiguous. However, being much more mature than I was at Time Inc., I’m not going to create a ruckus just because I think I should have a certain role in this reformation. The company doesn’t owe me anything and vice versa. Instead, I know that I’m in total control and will do whatever’s is best for me.