You Don’t Have To Be Yourself

Did you guys catch the news lately? Turns out that Millennials (which they’re defining as between 18-30) are now switching jobs every 2 years on average. Sure, some of this is due to the recession, and young people being more likely to be under-employed and thus changing jobs as new opportunities arise. But, it’s also part of a long term trend where the younger you are, the more likely you are to have multiple careers (not just jobs, but careers!) during your lifetime.

Since we’re going to be switching jobs so often – it’s worth figuring out how to get good at it. And for that, I turn to advice from my dear Gram, who said…

“You don’t always have to be yourself to get ahead.”

What? Did I come from some kind of abusive family where even my Gram didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough? Hardly. Gram’s (ineloquent) words were trying to make the point that work, like so many other things in life isn’t just about you.

Yes, we’d all like to believe that the solar system revolves around our own belly buttons rather than the sun, but the fact of the matter is that in almost every job, we’re going to be interacting with others – and we need to learn to get along with them and (at least pretend) to care about the things they care about.

How This Played Out For Gram

Gram started her career as one of many in a government secretarial pool in New York City. She and the other women answered phones, typed memos and transcripts and just generally shuffled papers around. There were so many of them that the men in the office had no real need to learn their names. Gram didn’t want to be just another secretary in New York City forever, so decided she had to get noticed to get out. How did she get noticed? She learned baseball.

Instead of reading the arts and social sections of the newspaper, Gram devoured the sports section, learning the ins and outs of the Yankees so that whenever she was handed an assignment she could banter for a few minutes about the latest games. Pretty soon, the men in the office learned her name and when opportunities came up in field offices across the country, Gram was recommended for the job.

Gram turned 88-years-old the other day. And to this day, she is bored stiff by baseball. All sports, really. But she maintains that learning sports so she could have something other than work with which to relate to her superiors gave her huge career boosts.

I’ll grant that this was over 60 years ago, so the rules were definitely a bit different for women back then. But I maintain the lesson is pretty similar – particularly if you are a something of a commodity in the workforce and need a way to stand out from the pack.

Stepping Out of My Box in the Twenty-First Century

I’ve already admitted that I’m pretty introverted. So Gram’s advice was a little hard to swallow growing up. But all of the best job opportunities I have had were when I stepped outside of my normal box.

Take my “career change” to the private sector…

One night, I met a financial analyst, we’ll call FA, who was a “friend of a friend” while at a bar that was definitely not my scene. But I was there – albeit slightly more casually dressed than the average. (That’s 1 step out of the box.)

I wasn’t looking for a job – I was then a teacher, but was interested interested in hearing what FA did in a typical day. We discussed my background (numbers geek), and FA said his company was looking for summer interns that were good with numbers. I was a teacher, so had summers free. Why don’t I apply? So I sent in a resume. (Step 2 out of the box.)

I went in for an informational interview with FA’s supervisor not too much later and was disappointed to find out that all the intern spots were full for the upcoming summer. But – would I want to interview for a full time position starting in the summer? I wasn’t married to life as a teacher – and really only ever saw it as a temporary gig – so I said sure. (Step 3 out.)

I knew expectations for a full-time position were very different from an intern, so I stepped up my game. It wasn’t just numbers that I would need to crunch, I would actually need to know what they mean. I read books on basic financial analysis and one of the best books I read was 10-Day MBA – even though I never thought I would end up in “business”. (Step 4.)

I bought badass pointy shoes to wear with my interview suit. Gotta look the part, huh? (Step 5.)

Turns out I rocked those interviews and got a formal job offer. By this time, a few months had passed since I initially met FA in that bar and none of the actions that I had taken were in my comfort zone. But I had a chance to make a big change and try something completely new. So I accepted the job offer and told my principal I wouldn’t be returning to teach the following year. (Step 6 – I can’t even see my box anymore.)

Even though some 60+ years separated the experiences that Gram and I had, the same basic principle applies. We both had to be a little bit besides our “default” to get ahead.

Were we untrue to ourselves? I don’t think so. Bantering about sports when you’re not a sports fanatic is hardly a gross misrepresentation. And wearing pointy shoes and learning business structures and vocabulary wasn’t “not me”, just “not me yet”.

Well, except for the pointy shoes. I never did like them much.

Have you ever had to step outside of your comfort zone to get ahead? What ended up happening?

Today’s post was from Mrs. PoP. Mrs. PoP is one half of the couple finance blog, Planting Our Pennies. Though she and Mr. PoP are still pretty young and have only been married for three years, they are working to plant the seeds of a solid financial future together. So far they’re living relatively frugally and have invested in some real estate. Now they are working on paying down about $100K of debt in the next two years so they will own their investments outright. Check out their progress at:

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