When you don’t know what you don’t know—which perfectly describes me in the early years of my career—you search for advice from people with more experience. Sometimes you listen to this advice. Other times, it goes in one ear and out the other.
I don’t know where you are on your career path but hopefully this advice that I wish I’d gotten when I was just starting out (or that I maybe did get but was too stubborn to listen to) will help you as you figure out what to do next.
You can read additional tips in the first post of this series, Career Advice I Wish I’d Gotten In My 20’s.
If It’s a Choice Between Good People and Good Work, Choose Good People
You may have already learned this lesson the hard way, but if not, let me set the stage.
You hear about a job that sounds perfect for you: you would be working for an organization you admire, taking on more responsibility and for better pay. You spend hours on your cover letter, more time preparing for the interview and, when you get offered the position, you celebrate with your friends and family. And then you start.
And you realize that your boss is crazy, the organization poorly run, and your co-workers checked out and/or looking for new jobs elsewhere.
I would love to tell you that with time the situation rights itself and that the work is enough to make staying worthwhile but this has not been my experience.
If you are lucky, they “promote” your boss to a “senior advisor” position so he or she is no longer sabotaging your every move but even this is cold comfort: the promotion inevitably creates hard feelings and lowers morale even more because everyone knows there are so many other ways the money for that person’s salary could be better invested.
If you want to stay for six months to a year so future employers don’t look at your resume and think you are going to jump ship after only a month, I understand. But don’t stay in a position that tears you down on a daily or weekly basis indefinitely just because you like the work.
I’ve done this twice (shame on me!) and each time, my health suffered. I am worth more than that and so are you.
Stop Thinking The Fact You’re Indispensable is a Good Thing
I know people like to feel needed. I like to feel needed. But outside of a sole proprietorship, or maybe a restaurant built around a celebrity chef, the survival of an organization should not rest on the shoulders of one person. Why? Because it is not sustainable (for you or the company).
Sometimes, the organization is at fault. They assign more and more tasks to a high performer than one person can possibly manage well. This is shortsighted for so many reasons:
- That person will eventually collapse under the weight of all that pressure, either physically or mentally, and the company will have to scramble to keep things running
- It means there are less growth opportunities for others and your best talent will find other jobs
- When that person leaves, that institutional knowledge leaves with them
- They may steer the organization in the wrong direction and there won’t be anyone in a position to challenge their decisions.
But in my experience, it is more often than not the person themselves at fault and not the company. They see a need and they fill it. And they get positive reinforcement so they fill the next need and the next.
If this is you, my advice is to stop wearing the status of indispensable as a badge of honor. You are not doing your company any favors but even worse, you are killing yourself in the process.
I had a friend who served for several years as the special assistant to the head of our organization. I hadn’t seen her in awhile—the job kept her busy and involved a lot of travel—and when I finally ran into her again I was shocked at her appearance. She had lost so much weight I was afraid to hug her and her shoulders were hunched over like those of an old woman’s.
I know the organization was responsible to some extent for her ridiculous workload but she hadn’t done herself any favors by not setting boundaries as to how much overtime she would work, how accessible she would be outside of regular work hours, how often and for how long she would travel, etc.
She mentioned that she was thinking about moving to a new company but was worried about my organization’s ability to back fill her position. I told her that if our organization couldn’t survive without her it was our problem and not hers. I don’t know if she believed me but I meant it.
If you’ve taken on more than one person can possibly manage, create a plan for transitioning some of those tasks to other people. And don’t apologize for doing so. This is not only in your best interest but in the best interest of your company (I promise!).
What Advice Do You Wish You Had Been Given?
What do you think? I cover other tips here but would love to know your thoughts on additional advice for those just starting out. Post them in the comment section below.
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