Thursday, December 14, 2006

Overappreciated

-B

“You’re quite possibly my favorite person at this company. My team loves you, and you really get shit done. I’m telling you, you need to get promoted, and I’ll see to it personally that it happens.”

H is a managing director for one of the most lucrative sales teams at my company. A team which I’d love to be on. Up until recently, I myopically believed that the ever so coveted position of “financial analyst” would provide the quickest route to success, and would eventually lead me to my seat on the throne as the “CEO of the World”. But the deeper into finance I get, the more I realize, it’s the sales people that run shit. It’s the people who do the big deals. The people who bring in the money. It’s no coincidence that nearly all the top guys at Morgan Stanley are investment bankers. Now I’m not saying the sales guys at my company are of Morgan Stanley investment banking caliber, but I am saying, the fact that a lot of them make around half a mil is no laughing matter. Cuba Gooding had it right all along. “Show me the money”.

I waited patiently for H to drop hints. And then he did.

“B, you’ve got to promise, you won’t leave this company. Stay here and we’ll take care of you. I hear great things, I love working with you, and you know, we could use someone like you on our team…”

H raises his eyebrow inquisitively.

Fine, maybe it wasn’t so much a “hint” per say. But I was waiting for this for a while now. Allow me to back track.

Back at Morgan Stanley, I was underappreciated. People say that about their jobs all the time, I realize that, but in my case, it was pretty extreme. The coat rack next to my cube got more attention than I did. And to exacerbate the situation, I had a boss that had me on his list of people to kill. He was slowly succeeding. His weapon: insufferable passive aggressiveness. I had a choice. Option 1 was to jam a screwdriver into my ear until I began seeing pretty colors, and option 2 was to move to another financial institution. I took the low road, and moved to another financial institution.

Going into operations management meant that I would work directly with the money makers AKA salesmen (or saleswomen, whatever) and help them get their sales processed. And since I’ve dedicated my life to a program of self deprecation, my attitude was no different at this new job. Strangely enough, this self deprecation helped immensely in attaining recognition at my company. My philosophy was this: if I tell everyone I have no idea what I’m doing, and continue to feign ignorance for the life of my career, then everyone will be pleasantly surprised when I actually do get shit done. In addition, I personally believe face is everything. Face is also largely based on the company you keep. The greatest sin at work, in my opinion, is when someone, anyone jokes about how you don’t know what you’re doing. These types of jokes, while seemingly harmless, tend to propagate into truths in the minds of other people. Therefore, I make a huge deal out of it when even close work buddies joke like this. Instead, I try to surround myself around people at work who will speak positively of me to others. And although contrived, I must admit, I also ask friends to drop my name in a positive light. Leave the deprecation to me.

J and I quickly became good friends. We had common interests. We were both passionate people. And when I say passionate, I mean we both loved alcohol passionately. I was going through a breakup that tore my world apart, and J was a hilarious lush that made me forget about it, if even briefly. The thing about J is that he’s totally different than me. He’s an extrovert with a “devil may care” attitude that goes out and hits on chicks like it’s nobody’s business. I’m the awkward over-analytical wingman who looks at the floor with his hands in his pockets and mumbles clever little nothings to himself. J has no problem pulling the trigger, no matter who the chick is. I, on the other hand, strangely refuse to ever pull the trigger. I guess the slut gene eluded me.

A couple of months ago, J made a move into H’s team. This move had been in the works for a long time, and when it happened, it made me optimistic about my career. I recruited J into my program of name-dropping, and in a few weeks time, the entire team knew me as the operations manager that got shit done. Suddenly, in a single day (well, two days), it got out of hand.

H’s sales group had a 2 day training session in which they went into details about the products and processes. During the training session, my name came up. I wasn’t present, but I was told afterwards from a dozen people that after my name came up, the conference temporarily became a worship session about me. The vice president of operations barely knew who I was, but suddenly, she was walking by my desk with a smile and a wave. Salesmen were coming up to me and shaking my hand for no reason. Then, during the second day of the conference, J told me that to his amazement, they continued right where they left off, and began speaking about me again. This got H’s attention.

After a couple of weeks, I asked J to inquire about any positions that might be available in H’s group, and not surprisingly, H was very receptive to the idea. I eventually had drinks with H’s right hand man in which I was told that we’d have a meeting to discuss my transition into the group. I hadn’t heard anything since, until the company Christmas party earlier this week. H approached me and asked if I’d attend a group drinking “thing” and I agreed. So now here I was at this drinking “thing” talking to H. I smile and reply:

“I’m sure you know that I’d love to join the group.”

R, a saleswomen chimes in.

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea! You should definitely join us.”

And H continues:

“Yeah, I heard you were interested, this is definitely something we need to discuss. We’ll talk about it soon.”

Well call me David Bowie because I’m under pressure. Being underappreciated has it’s perks. No one expects much from you. But being “overappreciated” (which sadly enough isn’t even a word, which speaks volumes for America’s corporate culture) to messianic proportions is scary.

What happens when I drop the ball? The sound will be deafening. What if I forget to tie up those loose ends, those million little impossible loose ends that make us so perfectly imperfect? What happens when my volume falters? What happens when I go to H’s team and they suddenly see that I’m normal, that I’m just me?

Maybe I need to add funding to my program of self deprecation in hopes that others will expect less. Or maybe I need to stop this self deprecation because this self loathing is starting to feel so real.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Pat said...

Congrats on the new job, yo. An opportunity to fuck up at a higher level means it's a quality opportunity.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, that's pretty scary -- i feel you on it. i think the same way... almost in the same position of having to excel at all things, and when i get it done i'm given more responsibility. nuts!

best of luck with it.. any way you look at it, it's good for you. you're a smart guy, so i'm sure you'll do fine (if not good!) at the potential/new position.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

I've found that if you've impressed the right people, and it sounds like H is one of them, they're more apt to forgive you when you drop the ball. I have 3 managagers, 3 VPs, and a COO who would go to bat for me if I really messed something up at a client. That took a lot of hard work and impressing my managers who then passed on to the VPs and COO how great I am.

I also pull the "I don't know a lot..." trick...mainly cause I don't know nearly enough as I should. They seem to love me more for it.

G'luck in the future. I'm sure you'll be fine. Just make sure to warn your boss when you drop the ball so he's prepared to get his ass chewed out by his boss.

:-)

9:16 AM  
Anonymous wineward said...

Dude, quit worrying so much and be happy. You will be great at the new job when you get it. Stay humble, and keep doing what you do. They will not expect you to perform miracles the first day. Give yourself some time, and before you know it you'll wonder why you were worrying at all.

Fear of success can be just as scary as fear of failure. Give yourself a break and get off the "fear and loathing" train.

Good Luck.

7:08 PM  

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