OK, so no one actually said this to me directly. Not in those words anyway. I put the quotation marks to rattle you. 😉
All kidding aside, the sentiment behind the title is one I have encountered countless times as a young woman in Corporate America. Given the fact that I am often the youngest person at my level at each company I have worked at, this isn’t surprising. Having a coworker or supplier throw their years of experience in my face has become somewhat of a daily occurrence. Usually it’s prefaced with the statement, “I don’t want to date myself…“, but their intent is to do just that. To let me know they have been doing this job since I was in diapers. That my “fancy MBA” cannot compete with their hard-earned on-the-job training. Other times they say things like “In the good old days…” or they find a way to work in the even-less subtle “I have a daughter/son about your age…” in the conversation.
Have you ever had to go from sitting in a nice cushy office with one employer to switching to a cubicle with another?
Let me tell you. It is not easy.
I. miss. my. office.
In my current role, I get to work in an ultra-modern, brightly and naturally lit building with fully equipped gyms, convenient dry cleaning, fully stocked cafeteria, flex hours and…….yup, cubicles. Everyone, from the person in the mail room to director level folks sits in one of these. I am not claiming to be above sitting in a cube. Before my last job, I had always sat in them as well. But trust me, after a 4 year stint, a girl gets accustomed to certain things. Such as having a door and being able to shut it on occasion. Lol.
All of the below happened to me in my first 2 weeks of being in a cube:
List the top 3 things you need to make it in the entertainment industry as say, an actor or model. Come on…It’s not a trick question. Pretty sure appearance made the list, right? Every minute of everyday, we are being bombarded with images of society’s definition of beauty and attractiveness. Seems to me this definition, while constantly changing, becomes narrower and narrower. With the surge in social media, these images are now all over Facebook and Instagram. If I have to see one more person on IG with their ass pointing towards the camera, or a picture of someone’s abs…
Anyways, this is not a post about defining beauty. That is an age old debate, albeit incredibly worthwhile. Today, I am especially troubled by the realization that Corporate America can be just as harsh in judging people based on appearance.
If you know anything about growing up in an African, ultra-Christian home, then you know a bit about how I was raised. I, like most of you, was brought up by family members who believed humility and gratitude were the most extolled virtues. It’s hard to disagree when you think of how many chapters in the Bible are dedicated to this ideology.
“Blessed are the meek…”
“In all things, give thanks…”
Where religion leaves off, conventional African wisdom picks up with sayings like…
“Pride goes before a fall…”
“The fool speaks, the wise man listens…”
“Pride is the mother of arrogance…”, etc again teaching us, from a very young age how far we can get in life simply by being humble and meek.
So it suffices to say that I grew up with these values ‘beaten’ (literally, albeit lovingly) into my subconscious.
As a young adult entering into the Corporate American landscape, I struggled with balancing these values long inculcated in me, with the new Corporate values of self promotion, i.e., speaking highly of one’s self and achievements. I had a difficult time talking about or taking credit for good work I had done.
It’s been a while, I know… much longer than I would have liked. I have had some life changes lately that I’ll share in a later post. 😉
Anyways, I wanted to address something I have not only heard of but experienced first hand in Corporate America.
Flight Risk Analysis.
In layman’s terms, this is where the higher ups get to determine the likelihood of you leaving the company. If you are a highly valued employee with high performance, and have been deemed high flight risk, then they will start working hard to keep you. This means that if you ask for something, say a promotion, a raise, flex time, you are more likely to get it because they do not want to lose you. However, if you are a low flight risk then…sigh, well…you get the point.
Up until recently, I had never been privy to those discussions behind closed doors. A few weeks ago, I basically got the 411 on what had been said in these meetings and was extremely disappointed.
“She is a middle-aged, single mom with 3 kids. Where is she going to go?”
“You know, he’s pretty tight lipped, but he did mention that the medical bills have piled up since his wife’s treatments.”
“Well, we just relocated him from Des Moines so he still owes us relo. He’d have to pay us 50K if he left anyways.”
“We are in the middle of her green card filing so she can’t leave for another 3 or so years either way.”
This is how they basically decided whether these employees were worth investing in or not! Regardless of their actual value or contribution to the company. And here I was thinking it had only to do with effort and those many hours spent working late to deliver.
It didn’t matter that I was overdue for the promotion. In that moment, the only thing that mattered to them was whether I could leave or not! Which is why I had to show them. Hehe! More to come.
Here are a few tips I have picked up that may help…
Be careful what details you share and whom you share them with. I am pretty sure I have said it before but it bears repeating. It may seem like you are just making conversation, or being more sociable, or trying to fit in. But every little detail goes in a little file, a mental one, if not an actual physical file. When the time is ripe, that information will either help or hurt you. Be alert and share only the things that will help. So perhaps they don’t need to know how much debt you have, or what illnesses your loved ones may be battling, or even an expensive vacation you took. Always have your wits about you and avoid what is known as Word Vomit.
I recall though a coworker I had who went out of her way to let us know that she didn’t need the job. At every opportunity, she would mention her husband was a Stanford-educated doctor with his own practice. She would let us know that she was working because she was passionate and enjoyed it. This seemed to work for her and she often got whatever she asked for.
Like I said, know what helps and what hurts.
Know who to trust. I’m not saying that you should be a complete recluse at work. But know when the friendships you have built are genuine and when they are not. If they are not, then be polite. Cordial. But don’t over share.
Also, having a good network will help you know what is being said in those meetings.
Make plans. Don’t be naive in thinking you are not being categorized into high or low flight risk. Just be self aware enough to know where they think you fall. If low, then make plans to change something. Don’t just wallow in it. Look for another opportunity. Change your circumstance.
I know someone who, though miserable at work, refuses to look for another job because she would owe tuition reimbursement money to the company. So it has gone from a regular job to indentured servitude. This is a huge mistake. My advice? Please look for another job. There are companies that value you enough to pay your tuition back. You can negotiate your compensation to include a sign on bonus to cover the cost. This is not unheard of. It happens every day. Be creative!
Don’t let them mess with your self confidence…thereby keeping you from making plans. I had another coworker and friend of Chinese descent who came to the US 3 years ago. He had never spoken English growing up, although he could read it very well. He struggled to assimilate and during presentations, he would be asked not to speak because “no one could understand him.” The crazy thing is that although his spoken English is infinitely better, his confidence has been hurt. He is deemed low flight risk and so they have stopped investing in him even though this guy is a wicked smart, Chemical Engineering wizard! As low flight risk, they have taken work from the high flight risk folks and dumped it on him. He won’t look for another job because as he told me (in perfect English, I might add), “I don’t think I would do well in an interview. My English isn’t very good”.
Continue to deliver and earn your paycheck. Obviously. Because trust me, even if you are a high flight risk but a low performer, you will be shown the door. Don’t relent in your work ethic. Don’t be pushed out before your plans hatch.
So, you’ve probably diagnosed yourself as a recovering workaholic? If not, then read the previous post to make sure. If so, you are in good company.
Before going any further, let me ask one important question. Why have you taken this very stressful “corporate” role and why do you work so many hours at it? Here are some common thoughts and answers:
You: I need the money.
Me: But you have no time to spend it.
You: My parents expect me to. They love to brag about how their child works for that biiiggg (*spreads arms wide to illustrate*) Accounting firm /law firm /investment bank.
Me: ha! Like a true ‘Naija’ parent. Lol. That same parent will complain and guilt-trip you everyday because you never call or visit and tell you, you don’t care about them.
Here’s one that usually lurks beneath the surface but no one wants to say out loud.
You: I have to work longer hours to prove to them that I can do it…that it was not a mistake to take a chance on a Black woman.
Me: I need you to take a minute and mentally high-five yourself right now. You are the sh-t! You are the best person for the job and you have more than earned it. As much as Corporate America likes to fill their diversity quotas, they will not sacrifice performance, trust!.
I remember when I got my last promotion. I was (and still am) the youngest person to hold that position, not to mention the only Black woman…and my goodness, the rumors! I felt I had to work four times as hard to prove I could do it. I was putting in late hours like you cannot imagine. Because I kept doubting and second-guessing myself. Until I realized that the harder and longer I worked, their expectations kept increasing, and my personal life suffered. So I stopped and recalibrated. You are smart, capable and quite frankly more so than many of your White colleagues.
You: It’s the company culture. Everyone works these hours. I need to do it to survive here.
Me: You need to decide what’s most important and put that first. If you claim family is the most important thing to you, then make quality time for them. If your health is important, take care of you. A few years ago, a coworker was admitted into a mental institution from the tough environment at work. He’s still there now.
Unfortunately, many companies who claim to support work-life balance are only paying lip-service. They want you chained to at your desk for as long as possible. If you work for one of these, you may need to make a tough decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to go above and beyond every single day? And more importantly, is this sustainable? How long can I continue to work for this company in this capacity? You have to be honest with yourself and decide. If you choose to stay here, then understand that it’s a choice. A sacrifice. And be sure it is what you want.
Luckily though, you may not have to. More and more companies are starting to ‘walk the talk’ on work-life balance. They are the ones who allow you to work from home, have day care centers in the office, and let you take whole summers off. These companies are finding that allowing their employees to take care of their personal lives really does pay off and does not compromise the bottom line. Seek these companies out in your job search. When comparing offers, do not only look at salary, but evaluate the company’s culture and how closely their values align with yours.
I trust by now, you are evaluating whether you want to stay here, at this job. While you decide...
Practice Mindfulness. I know this is easier said than done. When I first started dealing with this, I would tell myself every morning that I would stay in control of my thoughts, emotions and actions. I would listen to inspiring words by Joel Osteen on my way in to work. And then I get that annoying email or phone call from a coworker, or that crisis arises at a customer throws me into a panic and it all goes out the window.
There is no easy fix. Just practice. One technique I used was to actually set alarms on my phone…little reminders every 3 hours to “check in” with myself. I would go to the ladies’ room, stare at my reflection for several seconds to compose myself, drink some water and take several very deep breaths with eyes closed. It might sound corny but I used those few minutes to acknowledge and then rid myself of negative energy and just be…self aware and centered. Bikram yoga, running and regular massages helped me become better at this. Before long, you’ll find you no longer need the reminders and your body will let you know when you feel out of sorts and need to “check in”.
Move. You are sitting at your desk for hours on end everyday. When you don’t have to be, move. Walk. Run. Hike. Bike. Skate. Dance. Something. I know you are so tired after work and you want to lie on that couch and pass out. Get up and move. Don’t think about it too much. If you prefer, go in the mornings. Wake up 30 – 60 mins earlier and just go. Trust me, it makes a difference. It relieves stress by flooding your body with endorphins and replenishing awesome energy to replace the negative energy from the day’s work. And you know you need to replenish. So you don’t snap at someone at work, or worse yet, at home.
Remove those sugary, salty snacks from your desk drawer and replace them with healthier versions. No, really. Get rid of them now. I won’t even bother to explain why. I’m sure you know. So just do it. If you don’t see it, you won’t eat it. And stay away from that vending machine. I wish someone would just ban those evil things! The mistake many recovering workaholics make is that they forget that they spend most of their time at work. So they spend all this money buying healthy food to keep at home but they don’t eat it and it just rots. If you have a fridge and microwave at work, store your healthy meals there. I now make a habit of keeping snacks like carrot sticks, oatmeal, granola and fruits at work for those extra stressful days when I can’t eat my jollof.
Say No sometimes. It’s ok. You are a professional woman. You know your worth and what you bring to the table. After you’ve spent some time there, they know it too. As you climb this ladder, know your limits. Know when you cannot get on a recurring conference call with China at 1am. Know when you cannot go to Australia for 2 years. Know when what they are asking for is not only humanly impossible, but when it doesn’t not fit your plan for your life. If you find yourself constantly saying no, then you need to get out of there. But it’s ok to manage expectations. You have nothing to prove.
Maximize the times spent alone or with friends and family. You are a dual citizen remember? You have a fulfilling life outside of this place. You have friends, boy/girl friends, husbands, parents, kids, mentees, pets, hobbies, passions. There are things you love to do that do not include ratchet tv after work. Think about what those things are and rediscover them. Discover new ones. Dedicate at least 1 hour a day to those things. Luckily for me, I love the gym so I can kill 2 birds with one stone. Lol. So I’m there most days. I love traveling so I take quick weekend trips. I love reading so I try to read at least a chapter a day. And I love writing this blog ;). So no matter how busy it gets, I must dedicate quality time to these things or people I love. It’s really what keeps me going.
Oh, and part of this is knowing how to separate work time from your time. Don’t be checking your work email when your boyfriend is trying to connect with you emotionally. Don’t be responding to work email when your young children are craving your attention. You prayed long and hard for that partner, for those kids. Now enjoy them. This is not the time for multitasking. I refuse to check my work phone before bed. I even make sure to keep my work devices (phone and computer), very separate from personal ones. Don’t worry. If you don’t respond to that email at 2am, the building will not collapse. It will still be there waiting in the morning.
Do not drown your stress with excessive alcohol and club hopping. This one isn’t that hard for me to abide by. The older I’ve gotten, the more I abhor the club scene. I found that clubbing was really not the best use of my time and it seemed to make the weekend fly by even faster! I do not see the point of being in a drunken stupor, losing track of those precious hours when I should be aware and savoring every minute. Not to mention the morning-after hangover when you then spend the day in a haze trying to recover. No bueno.
Please take your vacation days and sick days. This is currency. Not using them is like handing back part of your paycheck to your boss. Not to mention it helps you relax and take care of yourself. Ideally you should go away. Somewhere far and fun. But if you can’t, then take a stay-cation and get yourself together. Use this time to clean out your mind or even just clean and de-clutter your home. Use sick days to make your doctor’s and dentist appointments. I even use mine to take “mental health” days once in a while. I know a lot of us International Black folks sometimes shy away from using these days. We want to go above and beyond. Stop it. Take your days and rest. You are a Black woman, not super human.
Do you have others I may have missed? Please follow and share your thoughts.