1. If you don’t like your job, leave. That advice was given to me 25 years ago, and it was the best advice I ever got. I was miserable at my job at the time (which, ironically, was as editor of the Sammamish Valley News in Redmond), and I let everyone know it. I was the coworker who constantly complained about how crappy our boss was, what idiots my coworkers were, how unfair I was being treated, the long hours, low pay, etc. etc. My colleagues all had sympathetic ears and groused right along with me, but I was too blind to see how it really wore on them. Finally, one of them yelled, “If you hate it here so much, why don’t you leave?!?!?” during paste-up night (that’s a thing we used to do at newspapers before computers). It was a shock, and I wrote it off at the time. But years later it struck me how right she was. Nobody has a gun to your head and forces you to come to your job. If you don’t like it, and can’t change things at the job, move on. And if you can’t move on, don’t be that coworker. Ever. You may think somebody has your back and is in your corner, but they have their problems, too, and really don’t want to hear yours every single day. I had to remind myself of this recently. A lot of stuff crumbled in my world last fall, and I found myself crying on the shoulders of people here. They were very kind, but ultimately had jobs to do other than listen to my troubles, as valid as they were.
2. You are NOT your job. This is something Dave used to remind of all the time. And he’s right. Too many of us, when asked at a party what we “do,” immediately tell people what earns us a paycheck. Years ago, I worked at ESPN. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say at a party. But when I was asked what I “did,” I told the person asking that I was raising two kids and liked to golf. He later told somebody he thought I was unemployed, and when he learned where I worked (he was a huge sports fan), he was “really impressed.” Well, screw that guy. Seriously. If working at ESPN (or Microsoft, or Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) is what impresses somebody then they’re pretty shallow. You shouldn’t be that shallow with yourself, either. You shouldn’t need to work at a certain place, or be a certain title, or have a big paycheck to feel worthy. I had all that stuff Monday morning and didn’t have it Monday afternoon. But when I looked in the mirror Monday night I saw the same gorgeous face and beautiful head of hair that I saw that morning. I wasn’t any less of a husband, father or friend. I was just a guy who didn’t have a paycheck. It didn’t change who I am. It just made me poorer. Big deal. So here’s the second-greatest advice I ever got: Do what you can while you’re here and be OK with it. There were people at MSN before you, and there will be people at MSN after you. It’s far more important to be at peace than kill yourself off trying to be a big cog in a corporate machine. Still, if having a corner office makes you truly feel fulfilled and happy, then by all means go for it. Just remember you’re always going to be more than what your title in the global address book says you are.
3. You have NOTHING to prove. If you’re on this team, that means you are among the very best in the online media business in the entire world. Look around you and you’ll see the other people who are among the very best in the world. Seriously. You’ve been hired because some pretty brilliant people think you are also brilliant. Don’t feel you have to kill yourself off proving that you are worthy of the honor of being on this team. You’ve already proved it. Work hard, but work smart. Take the time off that you’ve earned, but show up when your coworkers need time off as well, including nights and weekends! Be sick if you’re sick. The “powers that be” will understand. So relax, take the pressure off yourself, have fun, speak up if you have a good idea, and do what’s asked of you as best you can, if not better.
4. Don’t take it personal, but do make it personal. I’ve been told all week that “We won’t be able to go on without you” and that “You’re indispensable.” What a crock! My ego appreciates the kind words, but you’ll be fine. And … everyone is dispensable. It’s just business. It’s not personal, even if your ego tricks you into thinking it is. As long as you work here (or anywhere), if your brilliant idea is voted off the island, just move on. It simply means someone who makes the ultimate decision decided to do something else. They have their reasons and shouldn’t need to explain their decision. Maybe their choice will work. Maybe it won’t. Maybe your idea will get a chance. This advice counts for things as simple as a headline and as complex as a personalization algorithm. Don’t root against an idea that’s not yours, root for it for the betterment of the team as a whole. In meetings, email threads, 1:1s, hallway conversations and all other interactions with your coworkers, listen to them and fully understand what they are saying. And if you don’t understand, keep asking questions! Understand where they are coming from, who they are, what their goals are and why. Walk to their desk sometimes instead of IMing or emailing. Take them to coffee and simply talk about their cats. That’s how you earn trust and “street cred,” even with people who speak a completely different language (engineering vs. media, for example).