Terry, a mid-level manager in a large Fairfield county company, came for career counseling after he was given a performance improvement plan. He noted that part of him almost wanted to be fired but – like most everyone – he needed a paycheck. The strange part from his perspective was that he had been good at his job. “I don’t want to brag but, at least compared to my peers, I’m just far more competent. Maybe because those who join our company just aren’t that smart.” From talking with Terry, I don’t think he was bragging or exaggerating. He had been given top ratings for the first 3 years of his job and his boss and said that some upper level executives thought he was the best of the hires from recent years. Terry was clearly very intelligent and was not arrogant. What had happened that led this star performer to be one step away from being let go?
I told him a story from my past: “Eileen” was a paralegal at the big Washington DC law firm where I worked. She had attended a very good undergraduate school and, while I do not mean to diminish paralegal work, most of it requires attention to detail and following procedures rather than anything demanding high brain power. Essentially, those with a good attitude who are suited for such work are rarely fired. While Eileen was never overtly was disrespectful, she always looked either bored or unhappy. When given assignments, she politely accepted the work but gave off the energy of someone getting another 50 pound weight added on their cart. She was let by the end of the summer.
If you don’t like your career path, soon enough you won’t be that good at your work.
Consider what happens when people start on a career path. At least in terms knowledge, they all are more or less on equal footing.
While in real life, this is simplistic, we’ll divide these new career starters into two groups (1) those who like and (2) those who don’t like their work. We’ll also make it so that the native talent of each group is the same.
Those that like their career will think about how to improve their work during off hours. They will read about the field. They will come in on time or earlier and leave a bit later. They won’t mind putting in time on the weekends or other off hours. While at work, they will be engaged and thus learning at a fast pace. Management will pick up their positive body language, energy, and attitude. That will help them move upward.
Those that don’t like their career will do none of those things. After work, they won’t think about work except due to anxiety. If they come in early, stay late or work on weekends, it will stem either from a boss’s order or simply out of worry about keeping their job. They will be bored at work and thus learning at a slow pace. Management will pick up those negative body language cues, the looks of disinterest, and those grumbles about working late.
You have to leave work you don’t like, not only because you are unhappy, but because soon enough you will also not be good at what you do.