The secret to corporate success

Work is so much easier when you don’t care

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I never have been particularly career oriented. I need to work because I like to sleep indoors, but other than that – meh, whatever. Tell me what the job is and pay me to do it and I’m happy. I don’t care if I’m not a VP. I would like to be asked to be a VP, but I don’t actually want the job.

My friend Sergio turned down a promotion to VP. The execs were shocked. How could anyone not want more nights away from home, more responsibility, more stress, and less fun?

Sergio’s wife shrugged when she told me the story.

“Our family is more important,” she said. “His boss said no, it’s actually *easier* to have a good work-life balance when you’re a VP because you can delegate more, but Sergio just laughed.” (Probably because Sergio knows a lie when he hears one.)

The dirty secret of corporate America is that even if you don’t care if you become a VP or a CEO, you have to act as if you do.

Even though *everyone* knows there are only a few executive slots and a lot of people who won’t be put into those slots.

But you have to play this stupid game where you have to act like you care. And by *act,* I mean you have to talk about how you want it and you have to put in the extra hours and you have to play golf with the right people – or whatever the bonding mechanism is in your company – and eat lunch with the right people. Even if you would rather go to the gym at lunch. Or read a book. Even if you hate golf.

It goes without saying – but I will say it anyhow – that having a penis and peeing next to the Right People is a major part of corporate success.

If you are someone who wants to do a good job but only wants to do a good job for 40 hours a week and then go home, there is not really a path for you. You cannot ever admit that you are working for the money and you don’t want to work the extra hours. You still have to go through the torture of your annual performance review and talk about your areas of improvement and what you didn’t accomplish and why you are such a bad person.

“The best job is to be a consultant. You tell them your ideas and they take your ideas or they do not take them but either way, you get paid.”

My operations research professor in grad school

Last year, my friend Alicia was so miserable that she quit her job at an F100 without having a new job lined up.

She was working long hours. Executives would re-do everything she did or ask her to re-do it. Projects never got completed. She never saw her work being used.

A few months later, her former boss called and asked her to come back as a part-time, paid by the hour contractor.

Alicia agreed.

Not surprisingly, as Alicia is really really good at what she does, they kept piling work on her until she got to about 45 hours a week.

“The difference is,” she told me, “that now I am paid for my time over 40 hours.”

“But even more than that? The difference is that now, I don’t care. I don’t care at all. I care about doing good work, but once it leaves my hands? WhatEVER.”

“If they want me to re-do it, I will. They’re paying me by the hour.”

“If they don’t want to use it at all? I don’t care. They’re paying me by the hour.”

And that, my friends, is the secret to career success.


2 thoughts on “The secret to corporate success

  1. Being a contractor is not, by itself, the secret, since I cared about the work even when I was doing freelance. I bet it helps a lot of people, though! (and YES to not wanting to be in upper management. In tech, there also desperately needs to be a career path for those who are golden at solving the tech problems but who would be either miserable or bad at project management, because guess what? That job is *different* and doesn’t necessarily translate well.)(my best boss ever quit and swapped to contracting, in fact, so that he could go back to solving the puzzles rather than doing project management; he was already in the process when he was my boss, and the company was really sad because he was excellent and they didn’t want to lose him, but there you go.)


    1. A project manager kept messaging me desperately about a deadline for which my team had promised him something. I told him I would send it to him as soon as the VP had approved it. But VP did not approve before the deadline.

      And – I didn’t have to sweat it!

      I do not own the project. I do not want to own the project. And when VP sent me the materials and asked me to shape them into what the PM needed, I said sure and charged for my time.

      I want to do good work and I want people to think well of me, but deadlines, etc, are no longer my problem.


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