I’m A Dumbass And I “Made It,” You Can Too

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“Don’t wear a skinny tie to work. Just don’t.”

The above quote is from Harvey Specter, a fictional lawyer from the series Suits, and he really seems to have the game figured out. If you don’t already watch it, I highly recommend you do, but I digress. Aside from the obvious, there’s a lot of wisdom in that quote. Aside from keeping you from looking like an out of place, try-hard douchebag, it also alludes to the idea that it’s not a bad thing to blend in and take a cue from the older generations on certain issues if you want to be successful.

A little background: I’m thirty years old, which probably makes me one of the oldest people to pen an article on this site. I’m not ashamed. NO RAGRETS, right? I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum in my short career. I’ve been laid off at one company, been promoted beyond what my age should allow at another, and in between the two, I have been amazingly average. I started as an entry-level bank officer at my most recent post, and in the span of five short years, I’ve been promoted through the ranks to a corporate SVP position at a multibillion dollar firm. I don’t say that to brag, I say that to legitimize the advice that I’m about to give. It worked for me, but it might or might not for you, so blow it off if you want. Or rip me apart in the comments section. I don’t give a shit.

I completed an unremarkable academic career in 2007. I moved to one of the largest cities in the country to work for one of the largest banks in the country two weeks later. Less than a year after that, I got axed, along with several thousand other junior employees, as the financial crisis began to rear its ugly head. I went to work at a smaller institution a few weeks later (I was very fortunate to be dating a girl who had family connections to said institution, thus being one of the very lucky few who quickly recovered from the layoffs). I didn’t realize how fortunate I was. I did just enough to get by. I stayed there a while — until the girl and I parted ways — and then hot-footed it to another financial firm. I did the same at the next place, and then I wondered why I didn’t advance. I complained and bellyached about them not keeping their promises to me. It then hit me all of a sudden: I hadn’t kept my promise to them. I realized that there’s an implied contract that you will give your all while you are at work. Your employer is purchasing a product when it hires you. If that product only works 60 percent of the time — which I’d say was about typical for me at that point — it should be deemed defective and tossed in the trash.

Recruiting and hiring being the flawed process that it is, I received a job offer at my current firm a short time after this epiphany. I jumped at it, because I realized that I’d already soiled my reputation at my then employer. This was my chance to become an adult not just by age, but by ethos. The following is how I decided to change, how I effected that change, and how it contributed to me actually being worth a damn as an employee.

1. Show up.
Really, show up. I made it a point to get to work early. My bosses typically showed up around 8:30 a.m. It was expected of the rank and file to be in their chairs by 8:15. I was there by 7:45. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you develop a reputation as the one who shows up early to make the coffee and is already running at full speed at the time when everybody else is turning on their computers, it gets you noticed.

2. Hustle, even if what you’re hustling at isn’t in your job description.
Some of the best advice I ever got from my dad (I really wish I would have listened more closely to all of his “stupid” advice when I was younger) was “don’t have downtime.” That doesn’t mean pretend like you’re working. That means that if you work yourself out of things to do, go grab a broom and sweep the floor. If your boss asks what you are doing, be honest. Tell him you ran out of things to do and you didn’t want to sit there and be a chair warmer. You’ll probably get ribbed for this by your coworkers, but fuck them. Those are the people who bitch about not getting raises and promotions, and they end up wondering why they are answering to someone ten years younger than themselves. People who lose the game generally bitch about the winners.

3. Don’t try to win popularity contests at work.
It doesn’t matter if your coworkers (and, if you get promoted, underlings) like you as a friend. Look how stupid Michael Scott looks when he tries to be the friend. That’s a pretty accurate caricature. All that matters is that they respect you and that you respect them and treat them fairly. Friendships are for outside of work. There is a solid point behind the phrase “It’s lonely at the top.” I’d amend it to say “It’s lonely on the way to the top.” This is not to say that you don’t have to play the office politics game — but that’s different. People get popularity and office politics confused. Office politics are about controlling the message that people — especially your bosses — see the version of you that most greatly benefits you. Having to play the games that are necessary to be “office popular” undercuts that.

4. Don’t shit where you eat.
To put it another way, don’t get your sex where you get your checks. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this much. You’re not in college anymore. You won’t get laid as much. Accept that and move on. There are good reasons people settle into monogamy more at this point in life, and one of those reasons is because it provides sex and companionship. Well, at least until you get married. There is no bigger career-killer, short of embezzlement, than dipping your pen in the company ink. Wow, so many metaphors for knocking boots with Heidi in overseas accounts. If you ever take another job, Heidi, I’m coming for you.

5. Be a grown-ass man or woman.
Don’t be a little bitch when someone hurts your feelings. Suck it up. This is business, not the playground. Don’t whine to your boss that someone hurt your feelings. That makes you look like the worst kind of pussy. Again, office politics are about controlling the message. The only message that tattling on Jack from sales sends is that you are susceptible to chronic vaginosis sabulum.

6. Be confident and fearful.
Finding a balance between these two is key. You should be afraid for your job every day. It lends a sense of urgency to your work ethic. At the same time, be confident enough to take measured risks. Once you have a good feel for the personalities of your managers, this gets a lot easier. Learn how far you can push before it comes back on you. Don’t cross that line.

7. If you work in a traditional occupation, such as law or banking, don’t wear a fucking skinny tie to work.
Ever. Understand that it’s not good to be on the cutting edge in all facets of life. Technological know-how, absolutely. Dressing or acting in ways that alienate older people and cause them to see you as anything but a peer: bad. These are the people who control your destiny. They control the world. They have the money and you want that money, so don’t do things to make yourself look like a prick in their eyes.

8. Be thankful.
Show a good gratitude when you get a raise or promotion, even if you completely earned it and it’s overdue. Be thankful to your bosses, family, friends, and to the man upstairs.

I don’t work at Goldman Sachs. I’m not going to pretend to be a badass. I’m really quite unremarkable, except that I decided one day to start pushing hard toward the life I wanted to live. I realize that a lot of this goes against the whole point of this site. I don’t care. If you want to slack off at work and bitch about not getting a raise, do it. And hey, it’s hilarious to joke around. I’m just a guy who decided one day that this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It would just be nice if somebody else reading this didn’t waste as much time as I did in figuring out this stuff. Just remember, if I, a dumbass, can make a change, anyone can.

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Banking, in reality, is nothing like Wolf of Wall Street. Except the cocaine habits. And the drinking. Those are just about spot on.

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