4 Things To Remember About The Corporate World
This answer was originally published on Quora by Jay Kim.
In my long and very undistinguished 16 year career on Wall Street, I’ve worked for four different companies that have gone bankrupt. Two of them were large global financial institutions (Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns Inc.) one was a commodity trading fund and the last one was a financial start up.
I would never have guessed that not only one but two of the large firms that I worked for would ever go under. It just was simply not in the realm of possibility in my mind. Having ridden on that roller coaster a few times, here are four lessons I learned along the way:
1. Working In The Corporate World Is Easy
Prolific venture capitalist Ben Horowitz explains why in his highly recommended book The Hard Thing About Hard Things and he calls it “The Law of Crappy People.”
“The Law of Crappy People states: For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title,” Horowitz explains.
“The rationale behind the law is that the other employees in the company with lower titles will naturally benchmark themselves against the crappiest person at the next level. For example, if Jasper is the worst vice president in the company, then all of the directors will benchmark themselves against Jasper and demand promotions as soon as they reach his low level of competency.
In other words, being a cog in a large wheel allows you the freedom to be mediocre. You quickly figure out how to do as little as is required of you just to get by and not get fired. For what you lack in skill and contribution you can make up for in corporate office politicking and ass kissing.
You also enjoy the safety and upside of being part of a large organization. You enjoy the success of a profitable year even though your contribution to the firm may not have been significant. If the firm does well, so do you.
2. There Is No Loyalty In The Corporate World
On the flip side, EVERYONE is replaceable. For all the corporate culture Kumbaya sessions that you’ve ever had to participate in with HR, at the end of the day you are just a number on a headcount sheet.
Large corporations have mastered the art of paying someone the least amount possible to ensure that they will stick around and revel in their mediocrity. Pay an employee too much, and they’ll get greedy and demand more or threaten to leave. Underpay that employee and they’ll leave anyways and go to one of the competitors.
If you kick up a stink, or cause too much hassle, you’re out. And in the worst case scenario (as I experienced multiple times) if the firm goes bankrupt, then you are out of a job.
It doesn’t matter how hard you worked for that firm, how many late nights you pulled trying to increase your division’s profitability, or how hard you tried to make your boss look good. If you’re riding on the Titanic when the iceberg hits, you’ll be going down with it too.
3. You Won’t Be Happy, But You Shouldn’t Quit
The term “entrepreneur” is all the buzz these days and people throw it around like candy in a parade. A quick scan of your network’s social media profiles these days will show you that everyone and their mothers have all of a sudden added that title to their LinkedIn description.
Anyone that sets up a “side hustle” business of flipping items on eBay on their weekend garage sales now labels them self as an “entrepreneur.” Hell, I’m guilty of doing that myself!
In reality 99% of people should actually not work for themselves. They should be working for a larger organization where they will thrive under that structure.
Please don’t for one second assume that being an “entrepreneur” is easy and anyone can do it. Trust me. It is a LOT easier to work for a large corporation and earn a steady paycheck than try and go out on your own.
There is a saying “Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40”. It’s true! Some of my darkest professional moments when I plunged into the pits of despair were when I struck out on my own and tried to “make it” for myself.
It’s scary. VERY scary. Don’t be fooled by the digital nomad/laptop millionaire infomercial of the hot couple sitting on the beach sipping Mai-Tai’s and checking their PayPal account every 3rd drink only to find thousands of dollars rolling right in. That is all bullshit. Don’t quit your day job until you are ready.
4. You Can Have Your Cake And Eat It Too
In the last decade it’s no surprise that since the financial crisis the number of corporate jobs have seen massive consolidation. But the fact of the matter is that you CAN have your cake and eat it to. So how do we adapt to these changes and stay relevant?
I’ve been fortunate enough through my work to have had the opportunity to interview some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the entire world; brilliant high achievers such as Gary Vaynerchuk, James Altucher , Ramit Sethi, Ryan Holiday , Lewis Howes, Tom Bilyeu and Seth Godin . James Altucher was one of my all time favorites and he says this:
“Industries are changing; no industry is safe anymore. The other irony is that we live in a fast-changing world. We’re not immune to that speed of change, that velocity of change. We want to change too. If you’re in a job for too long, you feel stuck. You feel in a rut. You just want to get out of there. You want to choose yourself, or as I call it in the latest book, you want to Reinvent Yourself.”
In other words, get your side hustle on. Since we’ve already established the fact that it’s easier to be a cog in a large wheel than a soloprenuer, you might as well subscribe to the “Law of Crappy People” in your DAY job and use the freedom that comes from the safety net of a large organization to work on your other ventures (or during your 5pm — 9am).
It’s never too late to try your hand at something else and start preparing yourself for the next time your company decides that you are replaceable.
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