Working in corporate America is often exasperating for minorities. You have to be damn near fault-free in order to ascend the ranks. Even when you do everything right, you still can find yourself on the outs with your counterparts. While I do benefit from male privilege, I’m still a black man from the time I clock in to the time I log out of Outlook for the night.
I knew I’d always be an entrepreneur. So I never imagined I’d be a regular competitor in the daily rat race. By the time I was 35, it was my goal to be a sports agent owning my own small agency. Nowhere in my life’s blueprint did it involved working for and having to answer to someone else. Yet here I am; just another corporate employee trying not to ruffle the boss’s feathers.
Thankfully, I built up my resume with relevant experience and always seem to get interviews with the right people at the right time. Yet and still, there are certain lessons that I’ve had to learn on my own.
Your employees are not your friends: It’s often encouraged to play nice with your co-workers. Most people suggest that your attend happy hours, participate in team-building exercises, and engage each other. In some fields, everyone is expected to support each other because projects require a unified approach. Lines can get blurred though. People get too comfortable and let their guards down. Conversations that you thought were held in confidence become office fodder. I’ve always maintained a very clear distance between myself and co-workers. For the most part, you have to keep a thick veil in the office. This is particularly true if you work in smaller office or a smaller company.
When the work day is over, completely power down: With the job I have now, it’s an irregular schedule. I’m working off multiple time zones and things often come up at ungodly hours or last minute. So extreme fatigue is real! I’ve learned that when you take your work everywhere you go, it’ll consume you in a way that’ll become toxic. If your job doesn’t require you to take your work home, don’t place that burden on yourself under the premise of taking initiative.
Be honest and humble, yet always use tact: What prompted this reflective post was a confrontation I had with my boss this week. Have you ever worked in a position where you were much more knowledgeable on a subject than your superior? Like not talking about it being hubris or smoke and mirrors; you legitimately could do your superior’s job with your eyes closed? Yeah. I’m more like Josh Weinstein and he’s more like Eric (Entourage reference for you) It’s a blessing and a curse to have those type of bosses. On one end, they do value your opinion and may even “consult” with you about things they haven’t a clue about. The curse in that is knowing too much can create animosity. Sometimes a boss will feel the need to “put you in your place” off the strength of ego. As adults, you may want to say exactly what’s on your mind, especially if it’s all factual. No matter how a disagreement with your employer transpires, you must retain your professional integrity by exercising restraint and tact.
When it stops being fun, it’s okay to move on: Call me an idealist, but when your job shifts into being your career, it should be fun all the time. Most people go to college to get degrees in the subjects that’ll A) earn them a great salary or B) feed their passion. Because of life’s experiences and the growing up process, our passions can change. If the corporate job you have doesn’t marry money with your passion, eventually the money part will cease to matter. Losing the fun aspect of being in the office will also contribute to burn out. Many people overstay their time at a job because they fear moving on, especially during a time of economic instability. People tend to be afraid to make their new passion their career because they get fooled by the glass ceiling. When you feel you’ve reached as far as you can go, don’t be afraid to start creating your exit strategy or starting a 2nd career.
You’ll make it farther up the ladder by having a mentor: Much like the music industry, the corporate world thrives on cosigns. Whether it’s because you and your boss share an alma mater, Greek letters, or a professional affiliation, you’re going to need an IN to sit at the big boys’ table. No man is an island when it comes to moving through the sea of corporate sharks. For me, my mentor was an old boss that I connected with while I worked for the Lakers. I never approached him like the rest of the interns. I just chatted him up with regular conversation. Once we had a rapport, I’d subliminally sneak in probing questions I had that related to my career aspirations. In a short time, we became friends. Having a mentor has been instrumental in keeping my focus. Regardless of the field you’re working in, you need to find someone who’s currently where you are. Trust me, it’ll save you a ton of time from making their mistakes your own.
What have you learned from your time in corporate world? What advice would give a recent graduate? If you don’t work in the corporate world, how did you realize it wasn’t for you?