Surviving Corporate America: Fire In the Pigeonhole

I once overheard a high-school teacher talking about a bright, young woman who had just been accepted into Harvard School of Law. She had received the equivalent of a 4.0 GPA all four years, breaking the records of scholastics and sports, while gracefully slipping on the robes of President and Valedictorian of her senior-year class. This teacher summed up her fate in one sentence, realizing “sure she’s an ‘A’ student âÂ?¦ she shines here. But when she’s at Harvard, she’ll just be another student”.

This fundamental statement is a powerful insight into surviving Corporate America. Fresh out of school, many are disillusioned thinking they will receive the same medals as they had the four years prior. They step onto the job wearing their Prentice HallÃ?® charm bracelet, relying on the luck good attendance and ‘A+’ papers have delivered thus far. Unbeknownst to them, they have just traded their claustrophobic dorm room for a cozy pigeonhole, complete with full-size glass ceiling and AMATUER pre-slotted into the nameplate.

Predominantly in larger corporations, it has become clichÃ?© to be a number among the masses. When once you crossed finish lines ahead of your schoolmates, you are now running against the Olympians of Corporate America; and most are gold finalists. When once you were among the best in your league, competing against your best time, you are now satisfactory, competing against your predecessor’s best time. True, this creates a wonderfully ripe breeding ground for competition, but can you keep your pace… or better yet, pick up your pace?

If the role fits, do not wear itâÂ?¦ out that is. You will stunt your reputation, enabling superiors to misconstrue your skill set to be mediocre or limited. Get your hands dirty and savor the learning process. Attend meetings or seminars on topics you might not typically attend. Rediscover your student-like curiosity by asking probing questions about the business, even if you think you know the answers. Write everything down and keep your notes at arm’s length. This does not give the impression that you are inexperienced or unintelligent; it gives the impression that you are hungry for knowledge and teachable. Say ‘yes’ when asked to do a mundane task, for it is from the mundane that you will often learn the intricate details of the larger process. Know that there is always more to learn, no matter how well-versed you are on a particular topic. Conflict and debate are healthy, within the limits of respect and so long as you have the ironclad facts to support your hypotheses. Permission is granted to reinvent the wheel, so long as you do so creatively and innovatively. Most importantly, molt your pride and slip on some modesty. Put forth your best effort on the above and remain focused on your long-term goals. Accomplish at least one developmental task per day. Before you know it, and without feeling the sting of the process which brought you there, you will have inadvertently developed a tremendous skill set in half the time and without all of the hubris.

What most fail to see is the basic fact that success will abound tenfold with a little patience and inquisitiveness. Most feel the quickest route to success is by exuberating confidence or competition; when really it is much simpler. Know that you are a newborn to this corporate world. Heed patience in knowing that earning a role worthy of your field experience and business knowledge is worth more than a cubicle wall showcasing your degree.

Copyright (c) September 2006 Lindsey Borzelli. All rights reserved.

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