Be Fearlessly Authentic

How a dreary culture and a bad boss is good for career development

“You get back to that goddamn cubicle and start thinking outside the box!”

My mind raced, overwhelmed with dread as I stood nose-to-nose with the masses of humanity on the subway en route to Times Square.

Climbing the stairs of the station, heaps of toxic anxiety ripped through my gut. My once sparkly spirit dimmed to gloom as I crossed Broadway. I entered the building and reported up to the twentieth floor of the shiny office tower.

There were big windows with stunning cityscapes, fancy meeting rooms, and plush corner offices. It was however, death by cubicle — the land of the walking dead.

As for cubliclean world, it would have easily won the blue ribbon in the Saddest-Cubicle Contest. “Welcome to Cubical Nation: the Suffering Silent Workplace” should’ve been the sign on the swinging entry doors.

And, alas — I was the resident outcast.

While I quickly bonded with a few people, I found myself trying to decipher whether the citizens of Cubical Nation were also exceedingly miserable, as most of them never spoke. They sat with their heads down at their respective work stations, quietly shackled. Perhaps they were satisfied, although my spidey sense didn’t think so. I found myself wanting to mercifully save them — to serve as their safe haven in the midst of the oppressive rigidity.

Most days, I longed to quiet my exuberant personality to a more introverted status so that I would somehow be more comfortable in my own skin, as I sat there bewildered and stuck.

And then there was the leadership. The truths of effective management is a concept that’s revealed by a variety of measures, one being the people who report in to it — the people in the trenches who live it and breathe it every day. I’ve had the privilege of working for some inspiring leaders in my career; leaders who didn’t manage through self-importance or fear; leaders who sincerely cared about creating an optimum environment for their people to flourish; leaders who created open cultures where employees felt that they had a voice.

This place was not that place.

As has been determined, a company is only as good as its leadership and its people. And also true: people quit their bosses more often than their companies. Congruence. Harmony. Compatibility. It’s a relationship. And regardless of the old adage “it’s business not personal” —  it’s all very personal.

I had sold out to the wrong job, in the wrong place. I had grossly undervalued myself.

Aside from the repressed culture, I’d signed on to a position that required me to apply skills and strengths that I didn’t like using, a job that had responsibilities that didn’t allow me to leverage my unique genius. Yes, I actually have a unique genius. You do too.

Job functions together with cultures and leadership are only as adaptable as they are — or not. The reality is, no matter what my father told me about “work being work” — I maintain that we do have a choice to choose a job and a culture that fits our fancy. In fact, that’s precisely what we should be doing.

And then it finally happened.

One day, 16 months into this calamity, the leader of the division of 50+ employees, a 40+ year industry veteran, called me into his fancy corner office for the first conversation I’d had with him, ever.

He said, “Ahhh Nancy, your job is being eliminated, mkay.”

That 30-second one-sided conversation was the epic pre-curser to the best gift ever. The paving of the way to a perfect new beginning … dedicating my spirited energy to championing people to finding their “right” job, in the “right” place; building their “right” career.

And as blunders be damned — just as every word must earn its place on the page of a resume, this experience didn’t earn its way on to mine. This was however, a most valuable lesson in my professional backstory.

WHAT’S THE LESSON?

On the surface, there might appear to be some merit to taking “ANY JOB” just to “GET IN” — “ANYWHERE”.

But wait . . .

There’s a distinct difference between gaining necessary skills or experience for a job that’s got you on a logical, deliberate career path vs. undervaluing yourself by taking a job in your current field for which you’re grossly overqualified and potentially in a place that isn’t the right fit.

Unless you’re intentionally de-prioritizing compensation in order to achieve other goals (i.e. starting a new career, updating skills, wanting more schedule/travel control or less demands), undervaluing yourself in the workplace is often a mistake for three reasons.

1. You’ll quickly become miserable, feel like you’re in survival mode, and as a result you’re likely to underperform.

2. Even if you’ve had higher-level jobs in the past, people don’t care what you’ve done before, you’ll likely be viewed as less qualified, meaning you’re “perceived” at the level you’re at today. So, if you accept a junior level job in your existing career it’s difficult to reignite and get promoted. The power of that perception will likely make your journey more arduous.

3. Many companies have minimum time requirements you’ll need to fulfill prior to be eligible for promotions and/or compensation increases, so you may find yourself stuck for a time period that’s too long to maintain your sanity.

BOTTOM LINE:

Don’t be so quick to undervalue yourself in the workplace. Barring a specific intention, hold out while searching for the “right” position at the “right” organization. You’ll be glad you did.

TAKE ACTION:

Run an inventory of the skills and strengths that you love to use, those in particular that the market values, and then identify 2-3 job functions that leverage those skills and strengths. Even better if they’re a bit of a stretch — that’s okay. Those are often the jobs that prove to be the most rewarding, financially and otherwise. Also, investigate the culture and leadership of the organization(s) you’re considering as an exercise in compatibility.

You don’t want to feel like me as I rolled into Times Square every morning . . .

Be fearlessly authentic. Period.