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Tim Denning

If All You Do Is Try and Advance Your Own Career, You’ll (Likely) Burn Every Good Opportunity

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Tim Denning
Tim Denning

Hidden opportunities disappear when you’re selfish.
Photo by The Baljinder from Pexels

Career selfishness is a nightmare.

I am literally about to leave the corporate world (partially) because of it. Sounds drastic, I know. But I’ve had enough. Watching selfishness every day is exhausting, even when you’re not the one being selfish.

The best example I have is of a guy named Snake. Snake is the name secretly given to him by our team. I call him the smiling assassin. This guy could fool the FBI with his lies. He plays both sides. He plays all sides. And when I say “play,” I mean pit humans against humans in a gladiator arena battle.

This part will surprise you: He’s selfish at work. He’s even more selfish at home. It’s been over three years since he saw his wife. She messages him every day, hoping he will return to the foreign country she is trapped in because of a global health crisis.

He sees her cries for help. And does nothing. Meanwhile, on the way to a client meeting he brags by showing me his phone messages. I’m supposed to be impressed. Even more creepy, during public celebrations of Easter and Christmas, he sends all of us a photo with his wife saying “Happy [insert day to celebrate].”

It’s like a bad joke.

You can’t use a photo from more than three years ago (before he had grey hair) to demonstrate how happy your life is and how much you care for us. You could be lying on the side of the road with two broken legs and bruises all over, and he’d drive past you and quietly say to himself “sucker!” That’s selfishness talking.

What drives his behavior is a desperate form of career advancement. His need for more career advancement is a deep baby cry for attention.

Doing work for incentives

Incentives drive behavior at work.

Incentives can be cash, job titles, promotions, more responsibility, and access to work in new departments with the word innovation. Incentives can ruin a company if they become the focus. Look at Enron for evidence. See the personal branding nightmare of WeWork founder Adam Neumann for more evidence. Incentives can make us go crazy.

You often give up your values to access the incentives.

Financial incentives are the worst. I can make like another $10,000 in my current job if I fall for the incentive trap. But this is scraps in the garbage dump to what I could make if I just published an honest book or focused on writing a Substack newsletter for a while.

The lie is this: work for a bonus.
The truth is this: you’re better off working on your side gig after hours.

You control a side gig. You don’t control how much bonus you get, or even whether you qualify for it. Profits could be bad come bonus time. Executives may decide to take huge bonuses and use the worker bee bonuses (like mine) to pay for them.

Or your biggest customer might leave because your company decides to ignore their problems and pretend to listen to their needs. You could be pitching the execs every day for a year about why your best customer is about to jump off your company’s cliff and land softly with your competitor.

The best incentive is ignoring the incentive and working on yourself.

Getting people fired to advance up the ladder

A common way to advance the ladder of career doom is to get people fired. The more people you have around you who will support your narrative, and therefore your career aspirations, the more likely you are to rise up the ranks of the microsoft outlook email signature club.

I call these folk ladder climbers. They’re soldiers who believe in tragedies, followed by death. You can heal the wounded workers, or shoot them in the head and fire their asses. I choose healing. Soldiers choose firing.

Helping a person who is in career trouble is much more rewarding. Firing creates enemies. Helping creates allies. People want to be around those who create more allies.

One of the most broken people I’ve ever worked with was about to get fired. He was homeless, had a young family, and slept in his car. I was a young punk with a BMW. I ridiculed him because he wore carpenter boots, ripped jeans, and a flannelette shirt on his first day.

“What’s that bozo doing in the snake pit, Scotty?”

(The snake pit is the sales office.) The level of judgment I had towards him was astonishing. Four weeks into his new sales job he’d sold nothing.

“It’s time to take out the trash, Scotty.”

I had his firing all planned out. We’d go down late one Friday and call him into the office. I’d be sipping a latte and looking important. The BMW would be outside the window as a success symbol. The other employees would see. The sacking would be badass. We’d joke about it afterwards over a few cheeky beers. It’d be swell to see someone lose their ability to pay bills and feed their three daughters.

We came down for the sacking ceremony.

Me: “Where is the little Aussie battler?”

Sales guy: “He went home sick.”

It had to be Monday. Bright and early we entered the snake pit. The whiteboard had a name on the far right column. It was him. He had outsold the entire sales team. He was ruthlessly honest with customers and they absolutely loved it. “Raving fans” doesn’t come close to describing his customers. He proved me wrong.

And taught me a huge lesson I will never forget.

We ended up becoming good friends. He became second-in-charge of our company. He got his own receptionist because he became so popular with customers. I watched a broken man rise out of the ashes of homelessness.

Never in my life have I been so inspired. There are beautiful opportunities like this everywhere if you can avoid being a knob.

Accidentally becoming an unrecognizable human

People who fall for the career advancement trap often become unrecognizable. Power can quickly get to their head. The perks of a better office or a corporate card can get out of control.

The worst part is your ego can become a tornado, sucking everybody in and spitting them back out the other side.

Secret: we are biased towards decent humans.

When you act with respect, display vulnerability, genuinely care about other people, build others up rather than destroy them, and understand “everybody is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” you entire life changes. Opportunities come out of the fog. People start thinking you’re lucky. It’s not obvious where your success comes from.

Career advancement is not about you. It took me over a decade to learn that. Your career gets better when you support the growth of others. You make a lot more money when you find out how to work with other people — because you can’t build Rome on your own.

Decency stands the testament of time.

The stress of unnecessary career advancement

Brutal truth: The higher your salary the more stress you must accept.

As I’ve gone from job title to job title, the stress has increased. The early days of a new title are nice. But they quickly fade. As soon as work stress takes over your life, your mental health starts to take a hit. Your energy levels bounce up and down like a yoyo. The brain fog from stress increases.

There are two things you want: 1) Less stress 2) More time.

Everything else is mostly bullsh*t. Giving up time for a title is silly when you think about it. If you really want to be financially free or make a lot of money, you’re far less likely to do that in a regular job.

Making money requires leverage. Your time has to compound your value while you’re sleeping. Working by the hour with the current prices of most things going up all over the globe, probably won’t make you financially successful. That’s to be expected.

You can simply replace career advancement your employer gets most of the upside from, with career diversification via a side hustle.

Opportunities hide behind doors with locks that don’t have keys

When you help someone in their career they remember. When they eventually move to a new job they can take you with them. When you do good work with a customer and be honest, they can end up hiring you. Your customer can become an amazing job you weren’t looking for.

The holy grail for those who don’t want to ever start a business is having a job created for you. A custom-design job.

This happened to me. They asked how much money I wanted, where I wanted to work, how many days I could work, which team I wanted to join, what business problems I wanted to solve, whether I wanted direct reports, and how many vacation days a year I wanted. The company wanted a human with a first and last name, not a resume or experience.

There are career opportunities you apply for. Then there are career opportunities that have no door you can walk through. The latter is created by working on yourself and lowering your ego.

The hidden opportunity in your career is fulfillment — not status, money, fame or bullsh*t praise from a dude in a navy suit who’d happily run you over with his Bentley while dropping his kids off to school. Career fulfillment comes from doing things that don’t seem to advance your career.

Work that changes your life is paradoxical.

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