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The Most Boring Career Advice You’ll Ever Receive

Why the guidance I give my 7 year old is the same I now give to my colleagues.

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Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague I have worked with on and off for many years. We were chatting about my career aspirations when she said something that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

You know what I like about working with you? You’re someone who takes the approach: ‘let’s do a good job and let’s be good to each other while we’re doing it.’

I paused. It seemed kind of simple. Was this a positive thing? Then, I took it in and was completely humbled. That is how I want to be seen. I just had never thought about myself in that way, put so concisely.  I simply put my head down and work my tail off. But, I thought…wow. I feel so lucky that how I strive to operate day to day is the way others perceive me.  In eye-roll-y corporate parlance: this was my brand

I tested this out by sharing with a few close friends and colleagues, and the response was: “Oh yeah… that’s totally you.” I was on a high. I had a brand! This was my BRAND! Some people want to be seen as the top performer. Some people want to be known as “the beast” who will get anything done at any cost. But, this… this was me. This comment rattled away in my brain over the next few days.

And, I began to ponder: what had I been doing over the last 14 years of my career that had solidified this descriptor? I thought back to projects I’d worked on, interactions I’d had, and work I had produced. 

Then, like a bolt of lightning, I realized the secret of how I became someone being referred to as the “let’s do a good job and let’s be good to each other while we’re doing it” person.

Ready?

I had been doing a good job.  And I had been good to other people while doing it.

That’s it.

That’s it?

…That’s it!

Oh. My. God.  Is this why I’m walking around happy and energized? Is this why I love work and pushing myself for more?  I just had to spread the message… I mean, is anyone else doing this? I sat with this for days, feeling like someone had just given me the keys to the castle.  I have to tell everyone, I thought. 

But, then I paused. Tell everyone what, exactly?  The secret to happiness in your work is the same advice I give to my first grader?  “Do your best and be nice.” Sounds kind of boring. 

To be fair, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Doing your best can be really, really hard sometimes. Showing up at the top of your game in both work and life day in and day out can be challenging. Doing a standout job often requires going above and beyond in both time and energy. Plus, being kind as an adult is not as easy as it might seem; it’s so rarely rewarded, and sometimes we are made to feel like it’s incongruous to actually getting work done. How many times have you hopped on a conference call where everyone just opened up the excel spreadsheet and got down to business? How many times have you gotten the awkward pause after sharing something and inviting others to chime in with their plans for the weekend… because, after all, that’s not what we talk about HERE, is it?  (Spoiler: It totally can be). 

Being kind doesn’t mean soft and it doesn’t mean you can’t make tough decisions or do hard things.  It doesn’t mean you are a people-pleaser, pushover or you just go with the flow.

And, possibly most important of all, it doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time.

To me, being kind just means you show that you actually care about other people. 

Simply doing a good job and being good to each other may seem boring, but the combination can be explosive; it all depends on how you look at it. In a world where many are so laser-focused on getting stuff done at any cost, be the person who takes a pause. Be the person who asks how someone is doing and genuinely care about their response.

Yes, I have seen more and more of this in the midst of a global pandemic. Yes, I do see that the personal and professional have become integrated in a way they never have before. But, I also fear that this is temporary, as I see just as many people going back to business as usual. 

Sometimes unapologetically caring about other people can be the biggest act of leadership or challenge to the status quo.

What if it’s awkward? What if I’m perceived as “that person” or “too cheery?” What if people just box me in as “the nice one”?

My two cents: Do it anyway.

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