Your desire for status and perks are ruining your career.
Take, for example, your answer to “what do you do?”
It’s normal to wish you had an impressive job title, so that you can fleetingly bask in warmth of the other person’s approval. If your job title isn’t that impressive, it may be tempting to hide behind the brand name of your company instead.
That was my trick.
“I work at Louis Vuitton”, was my default answer when I got one of my first jobs in Human Resources. I was keenly aware that the perceived status of the brand would elicit a “wow” – much more than my fairly entry-level job title would.
Is This Bad?
Not at all. It’s normal. Everyone does it (some do to a greater extent than others). It just doesn’t serve us as much as we think it does.
We tend to get hooked on external approval. The system we work in encourages it and – very soon – it becomes one of the priorities in our life.
Thing is, this pursuit of external validation – although offering a short term dose of pleasure – also hold us back from being better employees and truly enjoying our work. Why? Because it keeps us walking around with blinkers on, restricting our ability to connect with others and produce big results.
How To Be Successful & Fulfilled.
The ultimate pursuit of work is not the race towards more validation through higher pay and status.
It is towards leveraging your ability to solve other people’s problems in a way that makes you feel rewarded and fulfilled.
The biggest predictor of your happiness at work is the amount of, and quality of, problems you solve for others – and whether doing so is intrinsically aligned with who you are as a human being.
There are 4 levels of problems you can choose to deal with. The key word here is CHOOSE. It might not always seem that way, but you always have a degree of freedom over which problems you fill up your day with.
1. Basic Self.
At the very basic level you are entirely immersed in solving your own problems. You know, this human-brain-stuff we all experience:
- “I don’t have enough money”
- “I’m not senior enough”
- “I want to be noticed”
- “How does this reflect upon me?”
Getting caught up there makes it difficult for you to connect with problems of others.
When you’re in this space, a request from a colleague or a superior occurs as an exacerbation of your problems.
This leads to all the typical symptoms of a negative workplace: excessive complaining, gossip (aka trying to restore personal power through demeaning), procrastination, cutting corners & poor morale.
Needless to say, this causes you to be overlooked for promotions, which gives rise to more gossip, negative attitude, etc. It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to get out of.
2. Polished Self.
At this level you are still caught up in your own issues, but you have learned ways to appear as someone who puts others first.
Think of the typical cheesy salesperson stereotype. Life becomes an eternal quest of “what can I get from this person?”
You try to connect with people on LinkedIn and “butter them up”, because you know they have something you need. Being nice to people in this stage is a manipulation tactic, rather than a stance which you, at your core, believe is an important basis for human interactions.
This leads to fragmented, inauthentic business and personal relationships. There’s little happiness (or lasting business) to be found in those.
You begin to be genuinely interested in the problems faced by a few key people who you know are vital for your success at work – your clients, your colleagues and your boss.
It really begins to sink in that you can prosper yourself by looking after needs of others.
You begin to exhibit leadership qualities, though you are still too caught up in your own needs to be an effective leader. You’re probably an excellent salesperson or an account manager.
You begin to draw fulfilment not from external praise and status-based labels, but from your ability to creating elegant solutions, building effective teams, overcome personal challenges and watching your employees succeed.
You seek to solve bigger problems, which means you seek higher responsibility. This in turn, leads to more seniority. Ironically, it becomes easy for you to get status. However, it’s no longer your end goal – it’s a by-product of your effectiveness.
I know what you’re thinking. “I know plenty of people who have become become successful by being power-hungry ego-maniacs who only care about themselves!”
I hear you. I’m not saying it’s not possible. It very much is. A person who operates at the level of “Polished Self” is perfectly capable of manipulating their way up the ladder. Just take a look at some of our politicians.
Thing is, every path brings with it its own set of problems, and being a lifer of “Polished Self” will not lead to a happy life, despite any outwardly appearances of success you might learn to project.
Your Problems Are Not Going Away.
And that’s a good thing.
We’re thrust into a system which leads us to believe that if you get rich and obtain status, your problems will disappear.
I invite you to look at it another way. Your problems are never going away. Removing them is beyond your control. However, which problems you wrestle with today and tomorrow is not.
Steve Jobs, on his deathbed, was lamenting that he didn’t have enough time to solve education system’s problems.
The world is full of problems which need to be solved.
The key to a fulfilling, prosperous career is to be in a position where you have an opportunity to solve problems beyond your own, which you believe need to be solved.