“Why am I even here?”
It’s the question you ask yourself during every client meeting your boss drags you on while you sit there, idly, offering up no more than a few courtesy laughs. You’re scared, and that’s completely normal. You’re young, and the last thing you want to do is to overstep your boundaries. You care what people think about you, probably to a fault, and you’re well aware of how your peers will judge you if you have the audacity to speak up. Well, the time has come to speak up.
I learned this lesson the hard way in my first gig after undergrad. Before I turned into a masochist and did “the law school thing,” I took a job with a respectable recruiting firm. Coming out of college, I was the overconfident 23-year-old that immediately had a piece of humble pie stuffed into his punchable face. Suddenly, I was surrounded by well-prepared, career-driven peers that all seemed to have their shit together. My routine was consistent: arrive on time, leave at 5 o’clock and blackout on weekends. Pretty standard stuff. I was well liked on a personal level by most, and I thought that would be enough to get a promotion. Yeah, I’d become the youngest VP in company history. What a dumbass I was.
About 6 months in, I watched a guy that started a month after me get the nod, and there I was, arms crossed with a failed smile on my face pretending to be happy for him. The guy was a world class tool which made things worse, but I’ll be dammed if he didn’t deserve it. He spoke up in meetings while I opted to be the strong, silent type. I can still remember being at that dreadful strip mall bar where our boss announced the promotion. I drank a thousand beers that night, you guys.
As you might have guessed, I took it personally. I felt disrespected. Sensing something was wrong, one of the senior guys in the office approached me the next day to find out what was bothering me. When I told him I felt passed over, he looked puzzled. Neither he, nor anyone else in the office, had any clue I wanted to get into sales. The only person that knew was me.
In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise because fuck cold calling, but still. I was entitled. I was scared to speak up. I cringe thinking about it, but I like to think it was a turning point.
There’s a great scene in the final season of Boardwalk Empire where the Commodore says to a young Nucky Thompson, “Don’t walk into a room like a question mark!” I love that scene. I’ve been the guy that walked into a boardroom with a deer-in-headlights look while a group of big dogs silently wonder, “What is this kid doing here?” You may as well introduce yourself by saying “Hi. I’m Clayton from sales, and I’ve got a big bag of nothing.” It’s a confidence issue. You may lack it because you literally have no idea why you’re there, or maybe you’re just not ready for the show yet, but you need to give the appearance that you’re bringing something to the table. So speak up. Ask a question. I’m not telling you to unzip your khakis and drop your balls on the table, but don’t just sit there with your pud in your hands.
Trust me — you’d rather be remembered as the young gun that spoke up and asked a pointless question or two than the weird kid that sat there the entire time nodding his head while taking fake notes.
I understand your hesitation. We’ve all been guilty of rolling our eyes at the try-hard that speaks up in meetings, or the law school gunner that everyone rips on Gchat during class, but these people get ahead. No, I’m not advising you to turn into the Nard Dog, but maybe emulating Jim after he realized he wasn’t going anywhere in Scranton wouldn’t be a bad idea. There’s a way to do it without comprising yourself, and now is the time to figure out what works for you.
If you don’t tell them that you’re hungry, they’ll never know..
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