Your career is probably your number one money maker. If you blow up your career, you will likely blow up your finances. If you blow up your finances, you will become a bitter person who decides to hate other people for their success. If you hate other people for their success, you’ll happily vote to raise taxes on people who already pay the most taxes without having to pay more yourself. Once we’re all living the good life, then maybe we can conquer new countries to make their citizens do our bidding. Great job!
The first time I heard of CLM (Career Limiting Moves) was during my first year of work out of college. I went down to the basement level to get some coffee for my senior co-workers. Given I had to get eight orders, I figured I might as well get a haircut next door while I waited. Unfortunately, the barber cut my sides a little too tight and my luscious locks turned into military buzz cut spikes. When I got back to my desk, everybody started making fun of me.
“You trying out for the military Sam?”
“How was your vacation?” (Given I was gone for about 25 minutes)
“Sonic boom!” (In reference to Guile from Street Fighter)
“Where’s Sam and what did you do with my grande mocha?”
It’s customary to get ribbings on the trading floor of a major investment bank so I took it like a man. Then out of nowhere, I thought of the best comeback lines when a senior VP started giving me more shit.
“I hope you like your coffee. I figure if it grows on company time, might as well cut it on company time!” BOOM! The senior VP wasn’t too amused. Welcome to my first Career Limiting Move! Luckily I escaped to San Francisco the following year for a new opportunity.
Now that you understand the importance of doing well in your career, let me share with you a list of career limiting moves you should not make.
A LIST OF CAREER LIMITING MOVES
1) Not knowing your place. Seniors beat up freshmen. First year analysts listen to VPs. VPs listen to Directors. Directors listen to Managing Directors. If you choose to work for an organization instead of becoming an entrepreneur it is vital you know your place. The last thing anybody wants is some cocky kid who thinks he or she knows it all. You must suffer like they have suffered when they first started. Anything less will seem like insubordination. Do what you are told until the new incoming class.
One of the reasons why I think some Asian cultures do so well in the workplace is because filial piety is indoctrinated into their every move. It almost doesn’t even matter whether an older person is right or wrong. What matters is that you show the older person some respect through listening and following directions. Through respect comes mentorship. Through mentorship comes a much greater chance of being successful in one’s career.
2) Perpetually coming in late. Coming in early is the easiest thing any newbie employee can do. Yet for some reason not everybody comes in early! If you come in after your boss you are disrespecting your boss and your senior colleagues. If you don’t really care then why should they care? You can kiss your promotions and pay raises goodbye. The same thing goes for those who perpetually leave early. You do not know everything so put in more time.
3) Not speaking Swahili. If your boss is from Swaziland, then you need to know everything there is about Tanzania or Kenya. Immediately learn about the culture, language, customs, economy, and areas of pride and tradition. By studying about your boss’s culture, it shows you care. You won’t be busting out your Swahili to show off. Instead, you are simply prepared to speak and act in appropriate fashion when the inevitable culture bias shows itself.
Look around your office. People hire people who look, act, and speak like them. The phenomena goes across race, nationality, sex, education, and orientation. A pessimist can point to nepotism as a reason for such similarities. May I suggest the simple fact that people trust people who are more like themselves. You can’t change the color of your skin, but at least you can go to a tanning salon to understand someone else’s culture.
4) Constant complaining. Complainers are always the first to get slaughtered when it’s time to let people go. Nobody likes a complainer, especially the ones who complain about their colleagues, subordinates, and bosses. When there are millions of people dying from starvation and can’t even get a minimum wage job, what the hell are you complaining about? A complaint will always get around the office because nobody is able to keep their mouth shut. Office gossip is like a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Do not engage.
The number one thing a boss is thinking when s/he hears a complainer is, “If you’re so happy, why don’t you get the hell out of here?” Once the boss realizes it’s because you are too chicken shit or unqualified to move, he’ll also label you as a cancer that must be removed. Always think in your head, “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Revel in the long hours, the hard work, and the impossible tasks. Once you do, you will ascend.
5) Getting too drunk at social functions. Free alcohol is great, but nobody ever gets promoted because of a holiday party. There is really only downside if you get hammered and start blabbering on about how you find Y colleague hot, and how you find X boss annoying. One old colleague of mine got sloshed at a Managing Director’s house and was fired two months later. Coincidence? Of course not. He was a blight to the firm.
6) Not participating in office social functions. If your colleagues and bosses are going out for a beer after work, you better get your ass there as well. Of course you’re not going to get drunk, but you are going to spend another hour or two after a long day’s work getting to know your colleagues in a more relaxed setting. Outside of work, we are all equal. Here’s your chance to develop common ground.
It only takes a one hour lunch to drastically improve a relationship, especially if you pay. Your clients will pick up your e-mails and calls and business gets that much easier. Do not ever miss a chance to go bond with your colleagues. Once you develop friendships with higher ups, your survival rate shoots through the roof.
7) Not identifying rocket ships. There is always a star in your office that is going places. The star doesn’t always have to be senior to you either. Look at Marissa Mayer who is now the CEO of Yahoo at age 37. She’s hiring plenty of under 37 year old colleagues from Google to be her lieutenants. It’s important to identify the rocket ship so you can also go along for the ride. If your friends ascend to powerful places, they will make sure they take care of the people who helped bring them there.
8) Taking all your vacation too soon. If you haven’t even worked six months and are already asking for a two week vacation you can kiss your career goodbye. The first two or three years of work should be balls to the wall focus. Taking vacations too soon shows that you don’t care as much as you should about your future at the firm. Vacation days almost always carry over up to a certain point, therefore don’t worry about losing them. If you ever leave your firm, your old firm is required to pay your vacation days in the form of income as well.
If you must take your vacations, spread them out in two or three day chunks through the year. Try not to take more vacations during the second half of the year because that is usually when bonuses and promotions are decided. Remember, if you are enjoying your life too much, you will piss off those who don’t. If you piss of those who matter, then you’re not going to be very happy.
9) Calling in sick on a Friday (or Monday). Everybody knows that if you call in sick on a Friday you are blatantly lying. Your boss knows that you are taking a three day weekend to go booz it up with your friends in Vegas. What are the chances that you are really sick on a Friday in a week of 7 days? 15%! If you call in sick more than a couple Fridays then you should start looking for a job right now since it’s statistically rare to always be sick on a Friday.
10) Never volunteering for extra work. It’s important to raise your hand when your boss asks for volunteers. Take it as a privilege that you get to do more work. Your bosses will recognize those who go above and beyond their day to day jobs. Bosses love employees who come in on the weekends to make sure all the work for Monday is done. Another big tip is to volunteer for your boss’s charity.
11) Overestimating your abilities. You may have gotten straight A’s at Harvard, but you don’t know shit once you first start working. If you carry your superiority complex into the work environment without putting in your due diligence, you will fail miserably. It is much better to come in with the attitude that you know nothing.
12) Interoffice romance. Dating a colleague is risky business. There are strict HR policies that either forbid interoffice dating or that if a relationship occurs it must be reported for liability reasons. If we know that 50% of marriages end in divorce and even more relationships don’t even get to the marriage point, chances are high that eventually the relationship will back fire. If you can’t deny love, then just don’t get caught on camera doing something funny on the conference room table.
13) Jumping ship too soon. There’s an inherent desire for all of us to want more now. If we are underappreciated and a better opportunity comes along, then absolutely jump ship. But if you are on track but simply lack the patience, then you are shooting yourself in the foot because you have to redevelop all your existing relationships.
Make sure you read the list of things to consider before quitting your job. Everything always seems greener on the other side. Make sure you bring some fertilizer.
14) Writing an open letter to your boss. I’m not sure if this is a Millennial thing, but writing an open letter online to your boss to complain about your pay and your work environment is a terrible, terrible idea. It shows that you are an egomaniac who wants attention and isn’t willing to discuss internal matters in private. Having a low EQ won’t get you very far, and will probably get you laid off because you’ll be deemed an unstable liability to the firm.
15) Abusing personal time with company time. Everybody will go through some type of situation where you’ll need to take time off to take care of a loved one or family member. Employers understand this and have no problem with the occassional departure. However, if you decide that it’s OK to always leave at 2pm while your colleagues stay until 6pm to take care of your child, eventually something is going to give, especially if you haven’t been at the employer for very long. Your personal business should be addressed on your personal time. It’s a competitive world where many business can’t afford to not have fully dedicated employees. Try to negotiate a pay cut if you still want the job but clearly can’t put in the same amount of hours as everybody else.
BONUS: Being a jackass outside of the work place. I play a friendly meetup softball game in San Francisco every month. There’s this rude 25 year old guy named John who graduated from UC Santa Cruz. For some reason, he has something against me, even though I’ve never said anything bad to him or even know him or his friends.
During our second game of the day, I mentioned to everybody that I probably had to leave around the 5th inning as a courtesy heads up. And then he spits out like venom, “Then why did you sign up then?” Only an antagonistic asshole would say this. I told him because our babysitter called in sick and I wanted to relief my wife from care taking. This was the fourth time he has said something snide to me out of the blue.
Unfortunately for him, he limited his career because I know his boss at the Santa Cruz Warriors. Don’t mess with strangers outside of work, especially not financially independent ones with large platforms.
KNOWING YOUR PLACE IS #1
Out of all the career limiting moves, knowing your place is the most important thing to grow your career. When you are just starting out spend most of your time listening, studying, and volunteering for work. Sooner or later you will no longer be the green gord in your office. Just be patient.
I hear a lot of excuses from people who “just don’t want to play the game.” The excuses are born out of laziness and lack of knowledge. Selling yourself internally is just as important as selling yourself externally. You are being naive if you think doing great work alone will move you ahead. I didn’t particularly like the process of selling myself, but I knew I had to in the very political world of finance where big bucks are at stake.
Only after I started planning my exit did I begin to not care as much. My focus was on engineering my layoff to receive maximum severance benefits. Remember, a job is a means to an end. Don’t cock it up!
Recommendations For Leaving A Job
If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you’re also eligible for up to 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
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Updated for 2020 and beyond.