On corporate careers: misconceptions, mistaken identities and other near misses

This is not your typical career post. I’m not going to patronise you by telling you how to make your career the envy of many. Neither am I going to tell you to forget having a corporate career because the corporate world is evil. No, none of that nonsense. I’m going to tell you my greatest misconceptions during my corporate career that spans 10 years. You will see potential identity issues and near misses, which could derail any promising career.

the boss

Choosing a job, not a manager – New challenges are so exciting! It doesn’t matter if I don’t have direct experience in a role, I get excited about finding out what I’m meant to be doing. In fact, if I can already do the job I’m unlikely to be interested. I read the job description, highlighting in green where I have experience, in yellow where I have knowledge but no direct experience and in orange where I have nothing at all. Then I make a plan to fill the gaps. Sounds pretty thorough, right? Well, that’s a misconception right there. I hardly ever ask crucial questions about who’s going to be my manager in the new role. I know their names but I don’t find out what they are like to work for, what their management style is and if I should be bothered to enter into their kingdom. Oftentimes, this is more important than the job itself. It doesn’t matter how smart I am. If I have to regularly combat difficult personalities or succumb to a management style that doesn’t work for me, I’ll lay awake at night. If I could go back in time, I’d ask more questions about management style and values. I might still take the job after finding out that the manager eats human ears for breakfast (my ears are my favourite feature) but at least I’ll know – and I’ll have an approach for managing them…because the job is worth it.

speak no evil hear no evil

Tolerating bad behaviour for far too long – Corporate environments are odd places. Many have open plan spaces where you sit at your desk for hours hitting away at the keyboard connected to your computer. There are times that I’m a few meters away from a colleague(s) and no words are exchanged for the most part of the day. It’s not that we hate each other. We are just really busy, hunched over from 9 to 5, buried in a spreadsheet or a slide presentation or horse manure. Offices are odd places for sure. Then imagine people behaving badly on top of that. Behaving badly could include:

  • sending that saucy email with a lot of comments about things the sender knows nothing about while copying the whole world,
  • shouting at other colleagues because life just feels better after shouting,
  • people not pulling their weight on the job

I use the ‘3-strikes-and-you-are-out’ approach but not everyone is as understanding as that. After all, we are all here to work and to get paid for a hard day’s job. Corporate environments are not charities. Sooner or later, somebody will mercilessly threw slackers under the bus.

Focusing on weaknesses instead of strengths – Ever since I was a child, I have ignored my strengths. Literally. When I get my report sheet, I scan through and notice all the ‘buts’, ‘althoughs’, and ‘could-do-betters’. I almost always need a second opinion on the report sheet, someone to talk me off the ledge. It takes another look for me to notice the ‘she is excellent at this’ and ‘she is a leader in that’. Honestly, I never see it the first time. If someone asked me my weaknesses, those would roll off my tongue quickly but I often have to think about what my strengths are. In fact, I ask my friends what my best traits are quite a lot because I tend to forget.

 

In my corporate career, this is probably the worst misconception – the misconception that I need to improve my weaknesses more than I need to make my strengths even stronger. It causes what I call, ‘mistaken identity’. I could end up presenting myself with my weaknesses at the forefront. Try it. Describe yourself with your weaknesses. For instance, you could say, ‘I’m terrible at numbers and I have no patience for slow learners.’ Then try describing yourself with your strengths. Something like, ‘I’m creative and often come up with innovative ideas. I’m also calm and productive under pressure.’ Well, who would you hire for a job? It’s the same person.  One of my lecturers at business school used to say and still says that people should ignore their weaknesses. ‘Just leave it alone’, he says. ‘Focus on your strengths’, he says. ‘That’s what the company hired you for – to tap your strengths – not to improve your weaknesses,’ he’d often say. I’m not sure I can totally ignore my weaknesses but perhaps if I focus more on my strengths, I’ll have greater impact because I’m more effective. Or so I’m told.

light the boss' cig

Neglecting to feed the ego monsters – I cannot for the life of me massage people’s egos. I’m not dissing it, trust me. It’s a good skill to have and should probably be in the curriculum at any good university. I just can’t do it because I struggle to say things I don’t mean. It’s worse when the ego monster is expecting me to feed them without doing much to deserve it. I think, ‘Huh? Excuse me…I have things to do’. Really bad attitude on my part and a potential near miss as far as corporate careers go. In corporate careers, the ego monsters could be:

  • the boss
  • the boss’ boss
  • that IT guy who can work magic on a fried hard drive
  • a senior manager whose buy-in is needed for the project to go ahead
  • his secretary

I conclude that feeding egos is possibly the most important skill in large organisations with tall hierarchies. Hopefully, it’s backed up with a measure of efficiency on the job. Bosses want to feel good (as do all human beings) and the majority of them don’t mind if you mean it or not. Just do it and it might be the start of a blissful relationship. It feels awkward when I do it. Like Pinocchio, I stand there expecting to be outed as my nose grows… My smile is tense and phony. Certain muscles in my face twitch. It would be easier if I could sit this one out. But I can remember times when my corporate career would have been much easier if I had simply played along…

There they are – I shuffled along with energy, enthusiasm and some mildly worrying misconceptions.

Do any of these resonate with anyone?

Images from flickr users: Pulpoux!!! – the boss; Theen Moy – Speak No Evil, Hear No EvilGiulio Magnifico – Light the cigarette for the boss

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New Journey. New Blog.

I’m excited to let you know I’ve started a new blog. As I wrote in my last post, a new journey has began as I embark on my doctorate degree and take a break from corporate life. The new blog will follow my research as a main theme with secondary themes on photography. I plan to write more personal posts here from time to time.

It would be great if you could continue to follow me on the new blog. You have been so supportive over the nearly 5 years that I started blogging here. Things change and I’m hoping you’ll support that. Thank you so much! I appreciate every one of you.

Let the journey end here

When I started this blog, my purpose was to discover who I really was. I knew I was somehow stuck in second gear, occasionally revving my engine and inadvertently annoying other road users. I had hopes and dreams but I couldn’t see a way to frame them so that they made sense in relation to where I found myself at that time.

Don’t get me wrong. My life was good. I had a promising career, kids, a solid marriage and my health. But I was looking to fulfil higher needs, as Maslow would have put it.

This blog started with my MBA journey in 2010, going from engineering to business and picking up other interests along the way … like photography.

I’m pleased to say I think I’m figuring it out. I’ve decided to step out of a corporate career for now. I got an offer to do a part time doctorate and I have taken it. I’m relieved and nervous at the same time. I know teaching and learning have been passions of mine since…well, as long as I can remember. I’m excited about the possibility of an academic career and about having more time to influence my kids. Like I said, I relieved. It’s been a long and confusing journey but I finally feel like I’m on a platform that feels right. Indeed, it’s the first time that I’m not thinking with my head.

I’m not sure what more I’ll have to say on this blog. It appears to have served its purpose although I know I’m at the beginning of a different journey. I’m thinking, “different journey, different blog?” It would be comforting to write about my nervousness with the change I’ll no doubt undergo. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always feel epic. Without taking this leap, I’ll never know.

This is not goodbye blogging. It’s goodbye to the journey that brought me here. It’s hello to a new world, a new journey where I’ll feel more like me…

Lights of the Quay side: Photography on my mind

In the past year, I have visited Newcastle at least once a month. There are breathtaking views to be seen. I have said that I need to be in the city with my camera one day. The day finally came last week. Here are the best shots of the Quay side area where I normally stay.

Amazing view on the Quay side (Newcastle, UK)

I don’t really know what people do in this building but there were many heads moving about….this was around 8pm at night. I hope they weren’t working!

Looks so ancient! Perhaps how the Quay side would have looked to Dracula...

This picture above is grainy but I’m pleased with the 1800s feel to the view. It is perhaps how Dracula would have seen the Quay side back then…

Baltic, Quay side

One of the popular places to go along the Quay side in Newcastle. I love the lights and the “calling” of the sign: BALTIC. Baltic is the biggest gallery of its kind in the world. It is located on the south bank of the River Tyne, where the Quay side faces. https://www.balticmill.com/

Photos taken by Yekemi Otaru (aka the Task Mistress)

Yellow as a viable favourite colour

A yellow dress normally catches my eye in a shop. Then I notice there’s load of yellow dresses on the rack and only a UK 6 (US 2) and perhaps a UK 20 (US 16) left of the blue or black version of the same dress. My reaction to this worries me. And it might worry you…. My reaction is to stand confused for a few seconds, maybe even minutes – my mind in deep deliberation. I ask myself if yellow is really the “right” colour. Obviously other shoppers have turned down yellow in favour of black or blue.

I spend some minutes looking at the blue one. I don’t really do black but blue? I could probably stand it. After all up till my mid 20s, I pretended that blue was my favourite colour when folks asked me. I could never say yellow. I vaguely remember “confessing” when I was roughly 19 and the hearer had the strangest facial expression. I think they proceeded to say something in between chuckles like, “that’s unusual” or “go figure”. The truth is I don’t really recall. It was probably traumatising letting it slip because I vaguely remember needing to sit down with a glass of water. I never spoke of it again.

At a certain age, I think your soul just goes rogue and begins to expose you. For me at least, I have bought a significant amount of yellow things over the last 10 or so years and it’s pretty much public knowledge that I would so drive a yellow car if I found a dealer non-conformist enough to sell one.

My friend, Paula, even said to me at church the other day that she didn’t recognise me because I wasn’t wearing yellow. I’ve finally managed to brand myself yellow. Yippee!! Not excessively yellow though. I don’t want you to worry. You’d be delighted to know I’ve found a balance. Sometimes, I wear grey, blue and most recently black. It’s mostly experimental – testing myself on prejudice to other non-me colours. I’m doing well.

There’s masses of pressure that society puts on us to be like everyone else. I still feel it but I guess there’s a courage to draw from. Just the other day I was on my way to Newcastle and wanted to buy a non fiction book at the airport. Unwittingly, I looked at the non fiction book chart but couldn’t really engage with nos. 1 to 5. I ended up buying one that wasn’t even on the charts. What mattered was I engaged with the book and looked forward to the read.

Who votes on this non fiction charts anyway? Certainly not me.

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