There’s a lot of advice on how to love your job. But when people ask me for advice, I tell them this story.
One of my clients used to work in investment banking. At that time, there were very few women working in this field and articles like this one to help women succeed in this male-dominated career weren’t available. But what surprised me most about her job was the never-ending competition with her peers.
Competition by elimination
She was only two years into that job, but if she didn’t get promoted from Associate to Vice President by the end of her third year, she would likely be terminated. It was like that for everyone.
The surest way to get promoted was to impress a senior director with your analysis of a potential client’s portfolio. About once each week, the team of Associates met with a senior director to pitch their analysis.
Each Associate was given a few minutes to pitch and answer questions. But within minutes, the Associates started ripping apart each other’s analysis. Sometimes prior to the meeting, two or three Associates would privately agree to team-up against another Associate in order to sabotage that Associate’s pitch. So, it was competition by elimination.
“compete /kəmˈpiːt/ verb: strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.”
Although she loved her occupation and the banking industry, the endless, nasty competition caused her to hate her job.
How to hate your job? Only compete.
When we compete, our goal is to meet or surpass a standard previously achieved by someone else. To win the competition, we only need to do better than someone else. Nothing else matters when it comes to winning. We don’t necessarily have to create something. We don’t necessarily have to finish something. And, we don’t necessarily have to make the world a better place.
Of course, there is an upside to competition in the workplace, in that its goal is at least to produce a better outcome. But this upside comes at a terrible cost.
Competition and mental illness
Research shows that when we compete with each other in the workplace, we become isolated from each other. Whether we win or lose the competition, isolation can lead to loneliness, anger and depression. At its extreme, it can be the cause of destructive behaviors like addiction and even suicide.
How to love your job
Rather than only trying to do better than someone else by competing, focusing on accomplishment can be a deep source of wellbeing.
“accomplish /əˈkʌmplɪʃ/ verb: achieve or complete successfully.”
When I ask people why they love their job, they never tell me how great it feels to win. They nearly always tell me what they are able to accomplish.
An accomplishment, as the above definition shows, means that something is completed or fulfilled. When we accomplish something, we have created something, and a fully-accomplished creation can then become a contribution to ourselves and others. Whereas there will always be someone who can do better than we did, a fully-completed accomplishment can never be taken away from us, and it’s something we can offer to someone else.
How to love your job: stop competing and start accomplishing
Maybe someone else can come up with a list of the top seven, five or three things we can do to stop competing in the workplace and start accomplishing, but my list only has one thing on it: contribute to the wellbeing of others.
We actually have the freedom to choose how we will do our jobs. My article about the April 2018 Starbuck incident discussed this in detail. But, when we use that freedom to contribute to the wellbeing of others, we always fulfill the definition of accomplishment: achieve something successfully. Any contribution to wellbeing is true accomplishment. It sounds simple, but that’s how to love your job.
What happened to the investment banker?
All the competing got in the way of actually producing the best analysis. Time after time she saw her own and her colleagues’ good work overlooked in favor of the most aggressive and cut-throat Associates. She soon quit and is now the Chief Financial Officer at a successful corporation. She tells me how much she is able to accomplish and how much she loves her job.
What has been your best and worst experience with competition in the workplace? Why do you love your job? Why do you hate your job? Let me know on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also go to WorkFeelsGood.com and subscribe for more articles like this one.
Nice article Tom and I relate to your writing. I had a bit of an ‘aha’ moment reading your article in that I can contribute times of anger and general resentment towards my job to times of feeling competitive. I think one of the things I notice about the new’ish’ organization I work at is that the stress is considerably less and, while there are many reasons for that, part of it is the work culture which promotes everyone working together towards a common goal.
Thanks for the ‘aha’ smile today!!
Tom Morin says
Thanks for this thoughtful comment. T