Winning At Work: Stop Trying to Be the Best

Power is a fickle thing. Power doesn't care who wields it, it just is. People chase social status, money, fame, security, all in the name of having more power in their lives, over others, over themselves. It never lasts, though. Power is like a cat. It chooses you. You may not have even been thinking about power, but it will see what you're doing and come around to say hello. So you can't chase power. Chasing it, like with a cat, just makes it flee.

We all want more recognition at work, whether in the form of praise, social status, promotions, etc., but these are all just other names for the concept of power. We don't really want these things, we just want the power that comes with them. If we could feel the same making $10/hour as we think we'd feel making $100/hour, we'd just stay in entry-level jobs. But there's something that just feels "better" about having more. We will chase it our whole lives trying to get closer to the ideal of "wealth and power" but always come up short. That said, it's not a wasted effort to enhance our lives and surroundings to suit our tastes.

Deep down we all want some semblance of control over our lives, and it's true that there is more security and stability that come with having more money, more people who want us to succeed, etc. No guarantees exist in life, but we can increase our odds. How do we do that, you ask? Well, we've already established that chasing things that promise to help us win in life is a fool's errand. So if we can't pursue these things, how do we get closer to them?

People want to give things to people who want to give back. It's an established social reality that people who are generous with their resources attract more supporters than people who keep their resources to themselves. Resources can be anything: money, knowledge, friends, physical possessions, energy, time, affection, etc. When you share what you have to offer with others, you generate a sense of goodwill in other people. You may even inspire them to give more of their resources to others in turn.

Giving creates a chain reaction of collaborative feelings, positive interactions, and all of this is easily recognizable by people involved, but usually at a subconscious level. Not every kind of generosity is easy to see, since sometimes the resource is intangible, like just bringing a positive attitude to an interaction. Do you see where this is going?

If you focus not on winning the things you want, but rather on creating more of that goodwill and contributing real value--tangible or intangible--to every situation you encounter, you will "magically" start to see things "work out" for you, seemingly for no reason. But there is a reason, and it's because you're making the world a better place, and collectively, people recognize that at a subconscious level. Not only that, but they want to reward you for doing so.

And why shouldn't they? Don't we want to incentivize this kind of behavior in other people? Of course, but it's not that simple. This logic is not readily apparent to everyone and it is not taught in school, so it's largely seen as bogus advice peddled by people who don't understand "how hard I have it". There are privileges afforded to some but not to all, and that is of course true because humans are complex and we have centuries of prejudice affecting our decisions. But ultimately those who follow the principle of "give and you shall receive" will fare better in life than those who don't, controlling for all other variables.

This doesn't mean to disrespect yourself and give everything you have until there's nothing left. It means to be realistic about what you're able to give, and then to give exactly that much, no more, no less. When we hold back and give less to the world, we do everyone a disservice. We hide our bright light from the world's prevailing darkness. When we give too much, we burn out. We cease to be capable of giving and need to recharge in order to give more.

Much like agile software development, we need to find a velocity we can maintain over time. We need to give enough where we are contributing value to the world on a regular basis, but not so much that we let our bright light fizzle out.

If you want to win at work, don't chase things. Chase opportunities to bring more value. Chat up a coworker you haven't talked to in a while and bring them some joy, be curious about their lives. Offer to lend a hand to solve a problem that's not your responsibility, if you happen to have the requisite knowledge and skills for the task. Be gracious in embarrassing moments, don't take yourself too seriously to admit wrongdoing. Do the "extra credit" at work to inspire people to aim higher too.

Most of all, do work that you love to do. Don't force yourself to like work that doesn't resonate with you. Find that thing that gets your fire burning, and then shine so bright that nobody can ignore the impact you're making. And you want them to notice, not because you need them to, but because you can inspire them to shine brightly too. It can never be just about you if you want to win. That's the irony here. We're taught to chase our dreams and grab success for ourselves. But nobody is an island. Nobody can truly do it alone.

Our job is not to conquer other people, but to conquer our own ego. Winning is about helping everyone else win too. The bigger your impact, the bigger the reward will be. The funny thing is you just won't care as much about the reward when you get it. You'll care that everyone is better off than you found them, and as a result, you will be better off than they found you.

Winning together is the ultimate prize.