Career Advice: Be Confident, Not Conceited

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
― Mark Twain

There are various schools of thought when it comes to how people want to be perceived in the workplace.  If you are too nice, then people might take advantage of you.  If you are too cruel, then no one will be able to work with you.  What is the right balance of attitude and personality to make the best of a working relationship with coworkers and management?  I think it is a conversation that warrants some time and consideration. At the same time, if we spend so much time calculating our existence and moves within the office, how effective are we being?  So, I want to share some thoughts that come from my experiences and hope that you find something useful to add to your work life that may help you move along in your career.  The advice I share here comes from some good experiences, and some very negative experiences.

My first piece of advice on this subject is that one should always see themselves as replaceable.  No matter how smart you are, you can be replaced.  You may think to yourself that your boss would never be so stupid as to let a highly specialized professional go, but what if it isn’t his or her choice?  What if you are hit by a car tomorrow?  What if the company is bought out and your position is too highly compensated and must be cut.  There are so many reasons that you could find yourself out in the cold, therefore, there are so many reasons for you to cooperate and find ways to work cohesively with a team, even if you really are the smartest person in the room.  I remember once when one of our crotchety old network guys decided to make a play against the boss.  He basically let everyone know that he would not follow some policies and he had pushed his luck a number of time already.  The fact is, he was one of the most intelligent people in our organization.  His common sense was lacking, but technically, he was sound.  It just so happened that on this day, the culmination of all his prior offenses came home to roost, and he was let go.  Yes, it was a blow to the organization, but we eventually replaced him and moved forward.  You see, there can come a point where your attitude outweighs your value.  Humility can be your best friend in this environment. Put yourself last in conversations and do not feel as though you have to get the last word in.

Second, you should have confidence with humility.  Some people think that the two cannot exist together.  That is a lie.  I have worked with people who have figured out how to do this very well.  You can have confidence with preparation.  Some jobs are very flexible and you never really know what to expect.  Sales can be this way very often.  You can prepare for a customer meeting based on the information you have, but many times the meeting takes on a life of its own, or the customer decides to go a different direction once things kick off.  You can still have confidence in your ability to maneuver through these circumstances. While you trust yourself and your abilities, you can also be humble.  You do not have to brag about how great you are and managing crazy meetings with unrealistic customers.  You can simply do the best job you can and let people discover for themselves how well you are performing.  Quite honestly, it means more that way. Always be confident, but see yourself as the dumbest person in the room.  That will help you focus on what others are saying and value your own opinions less.

Lastly, always be willing to understand other people’s perspectives.  Even when it seems there is no way someone’s perspective can be accurate or acceptable, you have to remember that you can be wrong.  This doesn’t mean you are not intelligent or better at some things than other people.  It just means that in this particular case, you might not have the right perspective, or maybe their answer is best.  We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, so we have to understand that for a given problem, certain people will be better suited for a resolution.  For instance, Mark Twain spoke about the frustrations with his father but later in life began to see things differently.  Once we become an adult, we begin to see things differently.  That gives us some level of appreciation for what our parents have done and said. What seems odd or incorrect to you today, may just be outside of your comfort zone and you might not have the experience or knowledge to best be the judge.  So, always be willing to listen.  When you feel like you are the smartest person and have no reason to listen to others, then you have removed your value from the equation.

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