Performance evaluations are nobody’s favorite experience, with the possible exception of a small population of masochists. However, I did enjoy one from a department chair who began,
Unlike most new Ph.D. ‘s who believe that they are smarter than God, AnnMaria ….
My assumption of less-than-omniscience began with my graduation from the University of Minnesota with my MBA when one of my professors counseled all of us,
When you get your degree in the mail, read every word of it, turn it over and look on the back. Notice that nowhere on there does it say, “I now know everything.”
Even with that very sage advice, there are a lot of things I thought I knew back then that turned out not to be true. There were other things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Here is a random list:
- If you are the smartest person in the room and a jerk, people will use your technical skills if they cannot avoid it, but they still won’t like you.
- A lot of jobs can be done perfectly well by someone smart, it doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room.
- No matter how brilliant you are, there is a point where it won’t be worth the pain in the ass of putting up with you. (A manager once said this to brilliant friend of mine as a word of advice and I’ve always remembered it.)
- When you are the smartest person in the room, find a different room! When I was young, I was afraid that other people would be smarter than me (doctoral students at research universities are a competitive bunch).This year I’m going to SAS Global Forum, the Joint Statistical Meetings, the Western Users of SAS Software conference, an advanced predictive analytics course and a grantee meeting in D.C. My point in going to all of them is to hang out with people smarter than me who I can learn from.
- You’ll run into people who will tell you that you are not all that smart because you aren’t an expert COBOL programmer, don’t have a masters degree in mathematics or any one of a thousand things. No matter whether it is knowledge of structural equation modeling or how to code in Perl, there will be lots of things you don’t know. When I was younger and people (almost always men, for some reason) would say that, “You’re not really a techie / engineer / entrepreneur because you don’t have X.” I’d feel bad and think they were right. Thirty-two years after my MBA, I have had a ‘long and storyed career’ – or at least that is what someone said who introduced me at a talk I gave. I’ve been an engineer, programmer, statistics professor, founded or co-founded three companies. I still run into people (still mostly men) who act as if I’m an idiot because I don’t know Perl (I still don’t) or whatever it is that makes them feel they’re the smartest person in the room. The difference is my attitude. I realize I’m smart and they’re jerks. (Refer to my first point.)
- When you make a mistake and think that the more experienced people must think you’re a jerk or a moron that is almost never true. When I see a young person make a mistake, whether it is a technical problem or just acting like a jerk, I usually feel bad for them and inwardly cringe remembering when I was that age and some really stupid things I did. Yes, there are people who, when you make a single mistake will consider you a bad person or not very smart. Those people are assholes. Who cares what they think?
The rocket scientist went straight from graduate school to being a white Anglo-Saxon capitalist war-monger (well, he was always white). He worked for the same company until he retired. I was the opposite. I worked at a lot of different jobs. Most of my life, I held two full-time jobs (or more) at the same time. Two things worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
- Take a job based on how much you expect to learn. Every job I have ever had I learned A LOT. There have been jobs when I didn’t like my supervisor, salary, co-workers or working conditions (fortunately, not all in the same job) – but in every position I have ever had, I have learned a great deal and been grateful for the opportunity to work there.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away. In a book that was required reading in graduate school, “Business as a Game”, the title of one chapter was, “Never play with a stacked deck”. If you realize that you won’t get the raise, promotion, corner office, travel budget for conferences, respect – whatever it is that’s important to you – leave. If you really are that smart and what you want is reasonable, you’ll be able to get it somewhere else.
And finally, there is this …
I once worked for an employer who when I asked for something said,
“The view of management is that in this economy, people should be happy just to have a job.”
I thought to myself,
“Well, that’s sure the fuck not MY view!”
I left that job for a position that paid a lot more money and that I really loved. That experience reminded me of Seth Godin’s blog. He talks a lot about gifts and how a company receives your gifts says a lot about the relationship. If you work late, that’s a gift. If you do a great, not just acceptable, job, that’s a gift. If that is just taken for granted, or not even noticed, that tells you something.
The other night it was past 1 a.m. and I was still working on a project for a client, because I was interested in the problem and wanted to find the answer. I thought about some of the organizations where I had worked that placed a big emphasis on everyone coming in at 8 and “working” a ten-hour day. Personally, I come into work around the crack of 10:30. Sometimes I worked from home because that’s where my stuff is, it seems a big waste of time to drive in rush hour traffic to work on a computer when I have plenty of perfectly good computers here, plus there is that getting up in the morning thing.
My boss (who was the greatest) had done back flips to get me flexible work hours, telecommuting, a travel budget and a bunch of other things that were “not company policy”.
One day, as I had just sat down at my desk at 11 a.m. and was drinking coffee trying to wake up enough to do something productive, I heard another manager ask my boss,
“How do you know she is working?”
To which my boss answered,
“You know that system you log into every morning? She wrote it. That’s how I know.”
The secret to a successful career, I think, is to be smart enough to know your own worth, and work with people who know it too, without believing you’re always the smartest person in the room.