Too “Nice” to Be in Business?

I called up an old friend today, a former colleague and business partner who successfully transitioned from being a design and marketing person selling invisible software in a typical tech company to a thriving solopreneur selling a very concrete and hands-on service within the real estate industry.

I wished her a happy birthday, asked how the family was, reminded her we still had a pending weekday lunch which never materialized due to her busy schedule, and then told her about this one snippet of conversation she’d had with a former dragon boss we both worked under.

I said: “Do you remember how she once told you that you were too “nice” to be in business?”

“Really? She said that to me? In what context?”

“You had just emerged from a one-on-one meeting with her. And you immediately shared what she said with our little circle of coworkers. I remember it clearly because that sentence struck me as both insulting and clueless. And I was mad at her for saying that.”

“I don’t remember this! Maybe she meant: to succeed in tech, you have to be as mean and ruthless as her? Ugh, no thanks.”

“That’s good. That means you didn’t let it stick and make you bitter. You didn’t have time for that kind of negativity. You moved forward, found your niche, and built your own career as your own boss.”

“And it worked! Because ‘niceness’ works in the service industry! Maybe I should send her a LinkedIn message congratulating her on her new position and remind her that she once told me I was too nice to be in tech.”

“You should. Oh! She also said something to me along the lines of ‘I don’t think you’re really a writer, Lionel. You should consider maybe switching gears and doing customer service or customer success — something where you explain to people how to do things, since you’re good at that.’ The curious thing was she didn’t even really see my writing skills since she had me do no writing! She just had me do all the odd jobs — the cleaning up and closing of old projects that former employees had left running, that call center project.”

“Man, she had a lot of unsolicited advice for us.”

“Clueless advice as well.”

“Because she’s the big, well-connected guru whose advice is worth money. And we were two clueless underlings whom she felt needed career guidance.”

“Two underlings she was going to lay off a month later.”

“Ha! Well, being nice works in the long run.”

“Absolutely. Kill them with kindness. And if that doesn’t work, hand them the nitroglycerin.”

~ ~ ~

You know what areas you’re good at. You know best what kind of work suits you.

So the next time someone gives you some unsolicited (or clueless) advice about your career? Take it down… and prove them wrong.