Overcoming The Wall

If I’ve learned anything in the work place, it’s that most people simply want recognition for a good day’s work.  Pay and promotion are secondary to a simple gesture of a pat on the back or a “well done.”  Yet, why is it that praise is so often lost in the shuffle?  When just saying “thank you” is so easy and cost effective, silence often replaces.

I remember going through a rough stage in my career where I felt invisible.  Like Ralph Ellison’s protagonist in the Invisible Man, even with 1,369 light bulbs shining brightly around his basement room, he still felt like nobody noticed.

“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” This quote has stuck with me for well over two decades since first reading Mr. Ellison’s 1952 classic in high school.

THE MYSTERY

The conundrum is that even during my most dejected times, when all I wanted to do was give up, I got promoted like clockwork.  One would argue that everything is in the mind, and that if the company is promoting me then by default, they are recognizing my work.  Yes, to a large extent this is very true.  What people don’t realize is that with each promotion comes a higher and higher hurdle to achieve until one day, the hurdle stands 20 feet tall and becomes physically impossible to clear anymore.

The pace of progress has slowed, and I’m left wondering how to continue improving.  It’s like making money.  Even a multi-millionaire can make an extra buck.  It never ends.  The pull of other people’s success draws me to create my own.  Again, a comparative issue which is hard to avoid.  Once you become the manager of the first floor, you begin to wonder what it’s like to be the manager of all ten floors.  Pretty soon everybody expects you to keep succeeding and peers no longer praise you because you are expected to win.  Here’s when things begin to unravel.

LOOK OUT FOR OTHERS

The solution is to never stop giving.  At some point in our careers we have the duty and the power to nurture others.  It’s like waking up one day at 35, realizing you’re not the youngest person in the crowd anymore.  There’s no novelty or glee in telling others how far you’ve come at such a young age, because you’re just not that young anymore.  There’s always a new crop of people coming in, and it’s up to you as the senior person to recognize other people’s efforts openly with no concern of your own.  Stop thinking about yourself.

Refuse to not see someone and all their talents.  Don’t let them be invisible.  Allow them to turn off all their light bulbs except one.  All anyone needs is just one.

Readers, have you ever felt invisible in your career, with your friends, or family?  What about in the online world if you have a website?  If so, how do you cope and make sure you don’t let the feeling of irrelevance keep you down?

Regards,

Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Powell says

    Good tip there. There really is a point it’s not just about you anymore. It’s like parenthood. You start doing everything for your family, because you’ve already had enough time to go out completely for yourself.

  2. Dr Dean says

    I agree that focusing on others will provide rewards you can’t get any other way.

    The higher you evolve in your business the less that pure work, and effectiveness matter-it becomes intangibles, and even luck. Your boss may hate soccer and someone with a sense of humor. And love golf and blonds.

    The secret is to know your strengths and weaknesses, and realize that you cannot control others, but you can help them.

    I find a simple thank you at the end of the day goes a long way with my staff. As I have become older, I have learned to let them see the real me, rather than a BOSS! Our turnover is essentially zero for the last ten years.

  3. Little House says

    I couldn’t agree more. There is a point where one needs to begin encouraging and mentoring others to continue to “succeed.” Though success at that point is slightly different because instead of being self-absorbed, you begin to share your knowledge and are seen more as a mentor. I feel lucky that I am verbally thanked for my efforts as a teacher through my peers, who are older than me and have been teaching longer than me. And, I try to encourage new teachers as well. It’s a wonderful feeling sharing information to help promote a newbie!

  4. youngandthrifty says

    So true! I think that as with life, there are always opportunities to grow and learn. It doesn’t necessarily have to be external factors, like promotions and acknowledgement, but it can be internal. Even though people may have reached the peak of their career, they can still learn more, or like Little House said, mentor others. Once people are at the top, you can help others climb up the mountain too. =) And the others (aka newbies at the beginning of their careers- like me!) are appreciative.

  5. Everyday Tips says

    At my old job, back in the good old days, bonuses were actually given for a job well done, especially at the conclusion of a major project. However, there was one other reward that was given that was totally random, and it was a Peer Recognition Award. You could nominate a peer and give a written explanation as to why you appreciated this coworker and why they deserve the award. I received that one day, and I appreciated that as much as some of the financial bonuses I received.

    It never, ever hurts to give a compliment, as long as it is real. I try to teach that to my kids as much as I can. It goes beyond the ‘if you don’t have something nice to say’ mantra. I tell them that if you can ever make someone feel good about themselves, then do it. If you have something nice to say, make sure you say it!

  6. Darren says

    If you think about how good you have it, and the people who have it worse than you, it helps you realize how you are in a position to bring hope and help to others. This helps contain those feelings of irrelevance.

    In regards to the online world, that’s what your Yakezie challenge is for! I’m looking forward to what you’ve got next after this challenge ends, and trying to post more often!

  7. Charlie says

    I agree recognition is underrated, esp. when being at a company for a long period of time. Even though my manager is probably 15+ years older than me, we have a very open line of communication. I told him today in a long conversation that sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing out on other opportunities by staying at the same company when we’ve seen so many great (and not so great) people come and go during our tenure. The 2nd most senior guy in our office’s last day is tomorrow and another up and coming manager is leaving in a few months too which is sad, scary, and somewhat worrisome. Anyway, he proceeded to tell me how valuable I am to our team and the office, complimented my unique strengths that others lack, and that there are lots of great opportunities at the firm, and various other perks. I know that some of it was sugar coated and a little bs, but the point is – he made me feel important and that’s really all I wanted to hear (although telling me I’d be getting a big fat bonus would have been nice too!)

    • admin says

      It’s a shame recognition is so underrated. I think it’s mostly b/c of insecure managers and colleagues.

      It’s natural to miss and wonder what else is out there. We just need to constantly remind ourselves about all the good things we have now at hand.

      It’s great you talked with your manager and told you how valuable you are with specific details!

      Hope you get a big fat bonus!!!

  8. Bankruptcy Ben says

    I agree, and quite often people are willing to exchange pay for recognition. Ever wondered why so many ivy league upper middle class people work for non-profits? LISTEN UP EMPLOYERS!!! If you create a workplace we’re people are recognized you’ll save money in wages and your workers will be more productive.

  9. Rob Bennett says

    There is nothing sadder that people who are miserable because they have achieved all their goals. There is something inside us that loves facing a struggle and overcoming it. So, if you reach a point where you have all you need for yourself, your happiness depends on finding others who need stuff and helping them get it.

    Rob

  10. Money Smarts says

    There have been times where I have felt invisible in my job, but at other times I’ve felt very valued simply because I have a boss who will stick up for me and promote me because he likes me – and appreciates the job i do. So I’ve felt both sides of the coin. When it comes down to it, being recognized is nice, but I’d still rather have the extra income. :)

    • admin says

      I guess after you have a certain amount of money, or have a certain amount of assets, more money does very little. All you want is recognition.

      Maybe that’s why the super rich donate big bucks to Universities to put their names on a particular building.

  11. Roshawn @ Watson Inc says

    It’s so true that recognizing others has immense value. In some cases, it matters more than income, especially for the most talented. I also thought your reflection on the increased expectations that come with promotions is very insightful.

    • admin says

      Sure, no problem Roshawn. Promotions are a double edged sward. If you are so high up, you also are the first to be blamed and sometimes canned when things go wrong. Careful what people wish for!

  12. Single Mom Rich Mom says

    I have to confess I’ve never felt invisible at a job and never felt that as a manager, my people were invisible to me. A major part of what made me visible – or at least made me go the extra mile +10 was them.

  13. Mark says

    It’s easy to feel invisible in corporate America. I always think of a quote by John C. Maxwell that the only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable. Nurturing and helping others is its own reward.

  14. Monevator says

    A related issue is that people get promoted beyond the level of their competence. It’s hard to tell whether someone will rise to a new position, so sooner or later almost everyone gets into a job that is a little bit beyond them.

    This has a couple of consequences:

    First, most older managers are no good at their job. Most will have been promoted beyond their skill levels.

    Secondly, elite companies spend a lot of time energy figuring out how to get rid of staff operating beyond their competence (or running systems that do the same thing). But it’s hard and can take years of trying various things to assist them or induce them to leave. If they could demote them it’d be easy but extremely few workplaces allow that.

    Thirdly: know yourself.

    • admin says

      It’s true. A promotion with more responsibility is ALWAYS a risk.. you never quite knkow how things will turn out.

      Demotions are too hard on the ego, unless it’s an absolute horrible economy, and the person being demoted has complete strong self-esteem.

  15. Squirrelers says

    With friends and family, I remember the things they have done – little or big – that have shown me how much they care. I don’t feel invisible then.

    At work, if you’re feeling invisible, you may not really be needed. Make yourself visible and needed or find another place to be. If you don’t, they might put you in the position of needing to do that. Work is a different ballgame all together.

  16. savvysavingbytes says

    When I first started out I had some doozie bad bosses who were so self-absorbed, all they wanted to hear was how great THEY were. This was actually good training for when I became a manager. When I earlier wasn’t receiving positive feedback, I knew the value of praising others for jobs well done. So I always took the time, not only to thank colleagues, but to praise them for especially good work.

    As far as hitting barriers or walls, I have been in areas of illustration that have simply gone the way of the dinosaur. The solution there has been to simply switch to another area of illustration or work. Since I like variety this hasn’t been a problem.

    And as far as feeling invisible, when I first started my blog, there were days I had so few visitors I sometimes visited myself just to see my daily stat number rise, but my only solution for that was to keep plugging away at it and start visiting other blogs, so slowly that turned around. There’s a lot to be said for perseverance.

    • admin says

      I hear you on blogging, for at least the first 6 months, it gets lonely indeed.

      Good to hear you are a good boss and have good bosses now!

  17. Matt says

    I think that most workplaces are based on high school politics.
    Even the hierarchy is similar: Superintendent to student; CEO to worker.
    Praise–and scorn–are a form of control. Scorn is more effective in the short term, no one wants to be embarrassed. But, it’s enlightened leaders and co-workers who learn that over the long-term, praise and compassion builds not just a career, but a legacy.

  18. Mike Hunt says

    I am the #2 in my company of about 3000 people, my business had a great year – we beat the budget for profit by almost 4 times! My boss is generally very skilled and knowledgable but he has a huge weak spot of taking his people for granted.

    In spite of my excellent performance I was going to get no raise or extra bonus.

    At first I was very frusterated but then I calmed down and thought about it. I met my boss and basically told him that I enjoy a challenge and enjoy working hard. However when I feel like I am not being recognized or taken for granted I lose my motivation. It becomes so badly that I can’t feel like getting out of bed and coming into work, the fire in the belly is out. I told him that this is a bad thing for both of us and asked for his help in getting my motivation back on track.

    It worked- he is going back to our shareholders to make a case for me. He just needed to be nudged in the right direction.

    Managing your manager is key to overcoming the wall. It is potentially more difficult in a very large company where there are many layers of managers.

    -Mike

  19. Funny about Money says

    This is well said.

    One thing that made me unhappy with my last job was the sense of being rusticated away from the unit our office belonged to. When the Dean’s Office, of which we were a part, moved to the brand-new fancy building where the university president dwelt, we were left behind in the old, crumbling, condemned (!) Social Sciences building. Consequently we rarely interacted with our coworkers, and even though I was a director of a unit that was lauded as “the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ jewel in the crown” (yeah, right!), I wasn’t even invited to staff meetings.

    That kind of neglect does nothing to motivate workers to give their all for the institution.

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