Slightly over a year ago, I wrote the post The Decision Point, mostly focused on an up and coming comedian who quit the business for a corporate job. I wrote this post well before I had applied to grad school, gotten into a top program and moved across the country to attend classes.
Here’s the gem of that year old post:
When I reach the decision point that he had, I hope for two things: 1) That a job in academia will allow me to do comedy, teaching and research without having to give any of those up and 2) If I can’t do both, I’ll man up and go for the chance at comedy
It’s funny how delusional I was. Teaching and research don’t coincide with doing comedy. In fact, teaching doesn’t coincide with doing research. All three are full time careers.
Given this, there’s two huge lessons I’ve learned in the past year:
1) You can’t have two careers. You can have two or more jobs, but only one career.
2) Sooner or later, any career is going to have a wall that sucks to climb over (or a dip to get through) and you’ll only be able to get past the wall if you have a passion for what you’re doing.
Today is the first time I read that Decision Point post since I wrote it and today is also when I officially announced that I’ll be withdrawing from the PhD program at Caltech. I’m moving back to NYC at the end of the month to man up and pursue comedy full time.
I’ve spent the past 3 years working for a Fortune 500 Consulting firm. During this time I’ve observed not only my company’s corporate culture, but also that of three other fortune 500 corporations and one US Government agency each of which I consulted for. I was rated in the top 30% at my level the first year, and the top 5% my second year. (I left before third year ratings were announced due to grad school.)
These are the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and while you can probably apply this to other aspects of your life, it’s especially true in Corporate America.
1. Get your shit done (but avoid busy work)
The rest of these tips are useless if you don’t accomplish what’s asked of you.
2. They’ll take as much as you’re willing to give them. Know when to say “no”. (Especially if it’s busy work)
If you always say yes to every request (work late every night, weekends, etc.) your boss will appreciate it, but they won’t respect you. Think about that girl/guy you dated who you could walk all over. You lost respect for them eventually and dumped em, same logic applies here.
At least 60% of your daily tasks should add value. Running an occasional photocopy is one thing, becoming someone’s personal photocopier is another. If it’ something stupid that you have to consistently do, figure out how to automate it or get out of doing it.
3. Under promise, over deliver
The more complex something is, the easier it is to overestimate it and then impress everyone. If you say something should take you 20 hours and you finish in 12, that’ll be more impressive then if you say something should take you 11 hours and you finish in 12. Make sure you’re not just slow. Don’t make it less then 50% of your estimate, or else you lose credibility.
4. Manage Expectations
Example: If you start answering emails within 5 minutes, you’ll never be able to take a lunch hour. If you answer within 30 or 45 minutes (which is usually reasonable), you’ll have more leeway
5. Don’t confuse responding to emails with getting work done
There will always be a fire, but don’t confuse the fires for the long term goals.
6. Take your hour lunch
It doesn’t matter how much work you do if nobody knows about it. And chances are, even if you’re done with everything, at most places you can’t leave until a set hour. You might as well take a break, enjoy lunch and build relationships with people who may be able to help you in a pinch.
7. Know when your personality is an asset, and when it’s a liability
When you’re working with people, talk about things other than work some of the time.Just don’t do it at the wrong time.
8. Don’t be so busy doing work you forget to socialize
But don’t try to be super friendly with everyone, that’s fake and everyone will resent you for it. A realistic breakdown of work friends to acquaintances to people you should avoid is somewhere around 20% : 60% : 20%. If you haven’t figured out who to avoid, chances are it’s you.
9. Go out for drinks with your boss once a month
You don’t wanna be too buddy-buddy (there may be some exceptions) but you want your boss to know you’re an actual person and not some automaton that sits in front of a computer all day
10. Have an “in” with people at other departments, so you can learn things before they’re announced to the masses
You’re in a knowledge worker job, information is key, make sure you have unofficial sources to get a heads up when you need it
3 Bonus Strategies:
1. Use power laws to your advantage
The 80/20 rule really applies to the workplace. 80% of your success comes from 20% of your effort. Identify that 20% and focus there.
2. Promote yourself without being obnoxious about it
This takes some time to figure out but you don’t wanna be “that guy” who always talks about how much work you have and how hard you work. At the same time, you want to make sure people notice your work. If you’re aware of this tendency, you’ll already be on the right track.
3. Be able to present like a normal human being and not a robot reading powerpoint slides
This only applies to certain jobs, but if you have to present to people, don’t read the slides. We’ll all hate you and will finish reading the slide before you’ve gotten to the second sentence
I just completed my first improv class and I liked it a lot. While I plan on discussing basic improv techniques I learned in the coming weeks, for now I wanted to share an exercise we did in class that will make for a great drinking game.
Numbers of players required: 4+ (best in groups of 8 to 16)
Object of the game: Get out of the center of the circle / Don’t get into the center of the circle
Everyone gathers in a circle and one person (randomly) starts in the middle. The player in the middle controls all of the action by pointing and/or looking at a specific person and then saying one of the key words below.
If the person pointed at does not say or do what they’re supposed to, they switch places and become the new middle person. If the person pointed at does what they’re supposed to, the middle person tries to get out of the middle again. If one of the players to the left or right of the person pointed at messes up, the person pointed at still goes to the middle. This introduces a “F You” element.
If the person in the middle doesn’t get out, they can point to the same person or someone else, and they can say the same key word or a different one.
For the key words with five counts, the players on the outside of the circle have five seconds to perform the required action.
The Key Words:
The middle person says:
You say or do:
“Bitty bitty bop”
“Bop” before the middle person finishes saying “Bittty bitty bop”
Don’t say anything
“Angel” and counts to five
Put your hands together in prayer while the people to your left and right make wings for you
“Devil” and counts to five
Make demon like growls and motions. People to your left and right of you put devil horns on your head
“Canoe” and counts to five
Make a flute with your hands, howl and the people to your left and right paddle
“Cow” and counts to five
Interlock your hands with thumbs at the bottom, people to your left and right milk you
“Elephant” and counts to five
Makes trunk with your hands, people to your left and right make big floppy dumbo ears on your head
Drink When: You mess up and have to go into the middle
Hard Core Drink When: The person in the middle says a key word and doesn’t get out. Every time a new person goes into the middle, they take a shot.
Let me know how it goes, or better yet, shoot a video of it and post the link here.