Bigger isn’t necessarily better
I remember the last words my boss of almost three years say to me as I walked out of his office –
“Paul, bigger isn’t necessarily better’.
I nodded at him, smiled and left. This happened a long time ago, back in 2003.
You see I had an offer to go work at one of the Top 2 Accounting & Business Advisory Firms in the world and I was leaving my role as a Senior Accountant of a 2nd-tier Accounting & Business Firm in Sydney, Australia (Top 20 in Australia).
It was exciting and even though my boss was happy for me, I could tell he was a little sad. I had handled his clients for almost three years and did a good job at it, working very hard. Heck, for about six months after I joined, my Manager upped and walked out and I was thrust in to an “acting Manager” role. I held the fort, so to speak for half a year while they looked for someone appropriately qualified and skilled.
He liked me. I was loyal and I was there when he needed me. This was reflected in my six-monthly salary review, I was handsomely compensated and was at the top of the salary range of my peers. “Not bad” I thought.
I could not foresee the future and being a candidate for the death of a cubicle worker.
Funny thing is that that piece of advice also applies to muscles and bodybuilding. The guy with the biggest muscles doesn’t necessarily win on stage in competition. That is because the guy with the most balanced & symmetrical physique with the right muscle: joint ratios and knowledge of the ‘art of posing’ is what builds a champion physique.
I’d understand that fully in my next phase of life, only a few years from where I was then …
When being your Best isn’t good enough
I was hired at a newly-created level just below the “Senior” level I was at my old Firm. It was a blow to my ego, initially, as I felt that I was being demoted. I brushed that out of my mind and told myself that ‘it was only a title’.
Thing is, that initial thought bugged me right through my experience there and every other thing that bugged me just seemed much bigger than what it was. Hey, I was back at a Big Four! (My first Corporate work experience was at the largest of the Big 7 at that time – Arthur Andersen, just after graduation in the late 90s, where I spent over 2 years as a Risk Consultant).
It is now the Big Four.
Was nice to be back, or so I thought.
I was going from a mid-tier to a Big Four and that was a ‘step up’ in the world, or so we believed. My first, heck, my first three months was nerve wrecking and admittedly, I found the place intimidating, cold and I was filled with fear but also a bit of excitement and loads of nervous energy.
But I had a bit of pride about it all.
I was sort of average at University. Many students had been far above me on the Dean’s list and graduated with honours and straight A’s. Not me. I had never hit any academic home-run except when I was in Primary and High School.
But that was a long time ago…. and besides, I was literally practising my social skills and building relationships and making connections in many sections of life. Skills like honing ‘small talk’ in various social situations, comfortably having conversations with people from all levels of the university and society- from the Chancellor, to having beers with Heads of Departments, to Gym Managers to gardeners. I spent a lot of that time mixing and socialising and finding out more about people as I ran a small business on the side too.
Besides there just so much to do besides study for straight As, and working on developing ‘me’ as a whole person and …. I had the energy and foresight to do that.
“What did my employer see in me? “ I used to ask myself.
They were looking for “well-rounded” individuals with experience along with brains… not just super-brains with no ‘people skills’. Ha! All that time running a business while studying and socialising wasn’t a waste after all. Apparently, many studies from major educational institutions indicate that the ability to connect with people is a key skill to have in life, a part of what is now commonly known as ‘Emotional Intelligence’.
One thing that immediately bugged me after getting that ‘newly-created’ title was I wasn’t getting much more than what I was getting at my old job.
I went from a Window Cubicle with great views to a ‘hot-desk’ and great work colleagues and a wonderful culture to something that was very different. A hot desk means that you don’t really work there and they don’t give you a permanent spot. You’re meant to be at your client’s premises, because if you are then, you’re charging your time to the client.
The firm makes it’s money that way, they had many perks. Employees loved that. I wasn’t phased.
The office was huge. An open-flat plan, comprising of a cubicle-walled jigsaw puzzle that felt like one of those boxes they make white mice run through to find the cheese.
Our Life-Controlling Mechanism
We can fill our minds with inspirational messages encouraging us to “Just do it!” or “Follow your heart!” so when we can’t do something or we recognize we aren’t good at something, we feel stuck. If we quit, that’s a problem (“Just do it! Don’t give up!”)
Sticking with it and quitting is a losing game, it is a lose-lose situation. No amount of positive affirmation can get you out of this abyss.
You feel like you’re unable to move at all.
Not able to think straight .. I felt like an imposter .. that I wasn’t good enough to be amongst the best of the best … not a good feeling to have at all.
I grinded my teeth as I slept, tossing and turning at night, and waking up with a feeling of dread in my stomach. I couldn’t handle that immense feeling of failure that kept rising and rising. Was it that I couldn’t do my job or I just lost all care about doing it? I’m not sure what happened first, my memory may have been a bit distorted.
I didn’t know where to turn.
I felt trapped.
You see, each of us have our own self-image, which kind of determines the kind of scope of person we are – it is our Life Controlling Mechanism. You see, we all have self-imposed limitations and we cannot outgrow these limits we place on ourselves.
We can only set new limits within which we must live.
Sometimes inspiration is not what you need, it is acceptance.
Acceptance so that you can move on and one day be in a position to say –
“I used to do that at one time in my life, but I no longer do”
A very powerful phrase to say. We all need to think we are making progress in life, no matter how small ‘that’ progress is. Saying ‘I used to do that?” gives you at least a perception that you’re kind of progressing in life.
It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.
Especially if you’re hard on yourself like I am.
What doorways are you trying to squeeze yourself through right now where … you know what?
You really fit just fine. You are not the problems. It is the environment that you are working in, that is the problem. If you take a fish out of water and expect it to climb a tree, it will fail miserably.
Does the environment make us believe it’s all our fault? Yes, yes, definitely yes.
We live in a world where the screws are on tight. There’s a capitalistic shrink wrap making sure everything is fitter, happier, and more productive. So sometimes the stress on all of us builds too high.
There’s no room for error.
Now, that doesn’t mean my bosses at the Top Firm were bad, they absolutely weren’t. They had lofty expectations and needed me to help. Fast! The screws were tight on them, too.
No wonder it’s such a hard lesson to learn as we’re falling that we’re okay, we’re okay, we’re okay. And maybe it’s just not about us. It simply isn’t about us.
Well, nobody is telling us that. So we always think it’s always about us.
Maybe what we need is simply – a Fresh Start.
A few years later I did what I really loved to do and that was to coach people how to be their Best – I owned and managed my Family Gym for about seven years. That failure at that cubicle job had many benefits, it spurred me on to very intense self-reflections and an identification of personal strengths. So much so, that in less than a year of leaving the cubicle world, I was competing at my first of two World Natural Bodybuilding Championships, representing Australia.
Finally, this fish was in the ‘right environment’ and my Best was good enough… good enough to be one of the best in the world at my chosen activity (Top 5 in the world two years in a row, representing the country I love).
You see I’ve learned many things from that failed cubicle job experience and one of it is that it’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.
I wonder what yours is?
I know one thing for certain … the future of work will see the death of many cubicle workers. It already has as technology has allowed many employees to work from a distance already. Be creative and consider strategies for your future and the future of work, Now.
Never forget: BELIEVE in YOU, first.
All the very best,
Cheers & Ahoy!
The old Cap’n Viking Pirate Evangelist Muscled Monk