I’ve been thinking a lot lately about career and career progression, and the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me that, generally speaking, you are your own worst enemy. Sure, it would be nice** if we all lived in a pure meritocracy where the people with the best work ethic or the best brains or the best teeth or whatever got the promotions, and all the useless, lazy suck-ups got to eat our dust, but that isn’t how the world works. Relationships matter, and how you conduct yourself matters.
When I was temping a lot, I never stayed in one place long enough to learn the personalities at that place. Broad personalities, yes, such as “he is very friendly” or “she is always in a bad mood,” but not the detail that you pick up after interacting with and observing the same people week after week after week.
Most of us are so self-absorbed that we don’t realize that people are silently forming opinions about us. They are quietly aggregating our actions and drawing conclusions from the way we interact in the break room, to our conduct on the phone, to the small talk we make on the elevator. People remember if we smile at them or walk on by with no acknowledgment that they’re there. People notice if we’re late. People notice if we have a messy, disorganized desk or a neat, clean desk. People notice when others dress well, or dress sloppily. And all of these assessments go into people’s silent perception of you. Ultimately, they want to know: are you easy to get along with? Are you trustworthy? Are you dependable? Do you do good work? Or are you a power-tripper, a corner-cutter, two-faced, negative, or tactless?
I think evangelicals these days are very prone to ascribing all progressions in life to a nebulous idea-cloud of “God’s will” (while all regressions are YOUR FAULT REPENT NOW), but the truth is that we have a lot of agency in our professional lives. No, we can’t “make” our boss promote us, but we can do everything we can to show that we deserve it, and we can certainly openly go for it. We can develop a top-notch reputation of honesty, trustworthiness, dependability, and quality of work. We can show good judgment and integrity. We can show a servant’s attitude – not a doormat’s attitude – but an attitude of humility. No one likes a person who makes sure that everyone knows that certain tasks are beneath his pay grade.
If you’re not getting all that you think you should get out of your professional experience, take a very honest look at yourself and see if you’re not your own worst enemy. There are so many people out there unwittingly destroying others’ goodwill toward them by constantly complaining, or acting like they’re too good for their job, or by being lazy or undependable, or by failing to show tact and consideration toward others. Likewise, so many people feel stuck in their jobs because they’re unwilling to step out and take a risk for what they really want. Most of the time, being a “nice” or “good” person isn’t enough.
Bee-tee-dubs, this also applies to your romantic life. If you feel you’re getting passed over by the people you want to notice you (or you’re just getting passed over in general by EVERYONE), take a good look at yourself and see if there are ways you’re letting yourself down. Could you dress better? Is your hairstyle unflattering? Do you wait for others to engage you, rather than initiate conversation because you’re an interesting person who finds others interesting? Do you keep eating cupcakes because you “know” it’s impossible for you to lose weight?? If you’re really not sure where you’re going wrong, ask a trusted friend who also has tact to identify areas where you could improve. Your friends most likely have formed some silent opinions that they’re not sharing with you.
**Obviously, a pure meritocracy would suck for those with no talents.