Promotions at Work
Hello and welcome to the second episode of Lessons on Life Spoken in a Soothing Indian Accent.
I’m your host Arun Krishnan. I am an immigrant, and by the very definition of that word, am prone to being or feeling out of place. And if you get that feeling of being out of place once in a while, this podcast might be a listen.
Today, I’d like to talk about seeking a promotion at work. Why is a promotion so important? Should it really be that important? And if you’re trying for promotion, but matters aren’t working out, what should you do?
My friend got promoted recently. His new job was in Seattle. He would have to move with his wife and family from the Bay Area. He lived in a fancy town – the kind where you can drive entire miles without seeing someone hopped up on meth.
He texted me on a Friday.
“My car will be delivered in Seattle tomorrow,” he said. “Can you be home for the delivery?”
This is what happens when you get promoted, I thought. This is what happens when you get rich. You don’t have to drive your car across state lines. You get other people to drive your car for you. They load it in one those large car transporters. And they bring it to wherever you tell them to – like to the run down house of a much poorer friend.
“Sure,” I said to my friend. “I can be home for the delivery.”
I was curious. I’d seen a picture of a car transporter in my son’s picture book. And I’d driven by quite a few car transporters on the highway, large and long vehicles, generating their own weather patterns. But I’d never seen one up close.
The car transporter arrived on time the next day. The driver got out of the truck. He began to reverse my friend’s car. But the ramp on which he was reversing the vehicle was above the ground.
“The ramp,” I said. “Don’t you want it to touch the ground?”
“I’ll jump from the car at the last moment,” he said.
“Ha ha,” I said.
I laughed. Because what he said was somewhat funny. But I laughed mostly because he was East European, and I didn’t want to offend him. I’ve always had an irrational fear of East European accents since the 1994 Yugoslavian war, where Bosnians, Serbs and Croats appeared on the news daily, and said and did horrible things about and to each other.
I helped him lower the ramp. He lowered the vehicle. We shook hands and I got into the car. The dashboard was impressive, serving up a dazzling array of facts about the vehicle’s performance in surreal blue fonts. This is what I want in a dashboard. I want an array of metrics that are so complicated that to comprehend them, you have to take your eyes off the road. If you have an accident, and a cop asks you, “What happened?”, you should be able to point and say, “My pimping dashboard.”
I recognized this car for what it was. It was a far superior vehicle to my Honda CRV.
My friend was two years younger than me. But he was one level higher up in the company. He could afford a better car than me.
I have been trying to get promoted at my job for a year – but my boss doesn’t seem to be on board with my plan. I felt jealous of my friend. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not petty. I can’t help being competitive. I’m Asian.
At times like this, when I’m embroiled in inner conflict, I always ask myself “What would Daniel Tiger do?”
In case you don’t know who that is, Daniel is the star of my son’s favorite TV show, Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood. Daniel is a tiger. And in every episode he learns something new about navigating the world.
Things like: When You do something new, let’s talk about what you do. When you get mad, that you want to roar, Take a deep breath and count to four. And in this near Buddhist lesson on patience, “When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything.”
I tell my wife “These are great lessons for the kid.” What I don’t say is that These are great lessons for adults like me as well. After all, I am a father. I don’t want to appear immature. I have to appear credible, so she’ll continue to consult me on future parenting decisions.
So I asked myself silently, What would Daniel do?
I know that it’s more conventional to ask, “What would Jesus do?”
It is a reasonable question. Jesus is a great role model. Jesus was by all accounts an accomplished person. And yet he didn’t let success go to his head. He was a modest person. He had a good upbringing, and didn’t have any addictions.
But, if we are going to be honest, he operated at a level way higher than the average man. He made water into wine. Old women sang beautiful songs when they touched the hem of his garment. Three stars came out in the night sky when he was born. What I’m trying to say that Jesus was way out my league. To ask What would Jesus do is a bit like asking How would Roger Federer hit this backhand? To which the answer is, “It doesn’t matter because this shit isn’t going to happen.”
No, Daniel Tiger is a messiah who is more relatable for average folk like me.
I racked my brains for a Daniel lesson that would be relevant. And sure enough, I thought of one.
I thought of when Daniel is getting frustrated because he couldn’t kick the ball into the goal post. His friends are on point like Messi. But Daniel, he keeps fucking up. With every failed kick, he gets more worked up. After four, maybe five tries, he is one pissed off little tiger. Just as I was beginning to get worried, his teacher intervenes. She tells him: Do Your best. Your best is the best for you.
Now at first sight, this sounds like a cop out. It’s like Daniel’s teacher is telling him, Don’t sweat it Daniel. Sure you fucked up. The ball is nowhere near the net. But that’s ok. You did your best. Now, go on run over to the couch, and chill out. And wait! Come back. Don’t forget your bag of potato chips.
But in reality, what Daniel’s teacher is telling him is quite different.
By saying, be the best you can be, she was laying the path for Daniel to experience that rarest of feelings. I’m not talking about heartburn. I’m talking about satisfaction.
Let me explain. Think back to your most satisfying moment of 2017. Think back to a time when you felt the most fulfilled.
The chances are pretty high that the moment in time that gave you the most satisfaction involved a task similar to what Daniel was trying to accomplish. You were likely faced with a challenge. You were trying to do something that was ambitious yet realistic. And for the period you were trying to do that something, you were completely lost to the world.
For example, the sequence of moments that gave me the most satisfaction in 2017 was when I played the song Having a Ball on my alto sax. I first tried to play four notes at one time. Then I played another four. I played them together. Then I consulted my calculator. I had played a total of eight notes. For those thirty minutes, I was totally immersed in that experience.
At the end of that half hour, I felt a measure of satisfaction at seeing my progress through the page that was lined with musical annotations. I imagine Daniel getting this very same feeling if after half an hour of practice, he kicked the ball into the net. This feeling of satisfaction is what Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer must feel after checking out the rankings and seeing that they are world number one.
But Nadal and Federer keep their satisfaction high and their passion for tennis alive not by chasing the number one position – but rather by focusing on bettering the skills that get a player to number 1. For example, only a few years ago, after spending eighteen years at the highest levels, Federer unveiled a new move – returning serve by stepping forward and taking the ball at a half volley. Think about it. He got better at the game after spending eighteen years at the top. He had skills. And then he got new ones.
But life in the workplace is unlike tennis. In the workplace, there are no rankings that are an indicator of how good you are. I am at an L6 level at work. I want to get to an L7 level. But what does that entail? Fuck, if I know. Fuck if my boss knows. All I know is that getting to L7 is some form of acknowledgement by a company in a country that I’ve moved to that I have done well. I have arrived.
But this mindset is foolish. It’s a lot like Federer were to focus on getting to number 1, rather than focus on the skills that get him to that level.
So perhaps, it would be better if I focused on getting better at my job. If I worked hard so that my sentences became more elegant with the passing of the seasons. If my new campaign to promote diversity in the workplace performed better than the last one. If an article I wrote got featured in a prominent publication. If I became, bit by bit, a better writer, day by day.
When I get to an L7, by boss will praise me for this and that accomplishment. I’ll feel happy. But I won’t be entirely sure of what tangible skills I developed to get there. And after a few days, that greedy beast within my immigrant self will get hungry again. For a new recognition. I’ll want to get to an L8 level. Once again, I’d become agitated and unhappy.
So, perhaps, it is better if I took a page from Federer’s book. If I just focused on becoming a better writer today than I was yesterday. It is a more silent accomplishment. But it is a more assured one. It is an achievement that is tangible. It is something I can sense. Something I can savor. Something that leaves me satisfied. A feeling that like little Daniel, I’m doing my best, because my best is the best for me.
Dhaka by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Despair and Triumph by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)