Success Comes When You Stop Playing Games
As a kid, I got a real kick out of engaging my dad in endless debates intended to manipulate him into letting me do what I wanted, like staying out late or going to a ballgame with friends. I’d just wear him down until he capitulated. If he didn’t, I did what I wanted anyway and begged for forgiveness later. It drove him nuts.
Don’t laugh. It was a pretty effective strategy that served me well for quite a few years. It even worked on teachers and a college professor or two. But I always knew there would come a day when my little game would come to an end. That day did indeed come.
Suffice to say that sort of childish behavior doesn’t go over too well in the real world. The real business world expects results. If you do great work and amaze your bosses, customers, and investors, you will be richly rewarded. If not, you won’t. End of story.
OK, it’s not exactly that black and white, but for those of you who think you can thwart the system and cajole, bend, or manipulate your way to fame and fortune, here’s a true story that just might dissuade you. Interested? Good.
If I told you that the first 10 years of my career was a complete waste, I doubt if you’d believe me. In some ways you’d be right to question such an outlandish statement. After all, it was during that time that I developed into a fairly decent engineering manager. I guess it wasn’t a total loss.
A year later something remarkable happened: A software startup took a chance and hired me as a sales executive. Our products were a big hit and we soon went public. Unfortunately, our success attracted a relatively large competitor named Microsoft. Suddenly the pressure was on and that’s when my chickens came home to roost. I fell back into my old pattern with my boss – the CEO – and that was the end of that.
Steve Jobs has spoken publicly about how the personal and public humiliation of getting fired from Apple was like getting hit in the head with a brick. I know the feeling. Getting dumped by the first company that had enough faith in me to actually hire me for a key position was a real wake-up call.
Jobs also said it was the best thing that could have happened to him. Likewise, when the many months of job and soul-searching ended, so had my game playing. Less than two years later I was hired as VP of marketing for a high-profile public company. That was more than 20 years ago and things have gone pretty well since.
Related: 10 Behaviors of Smart People
The lesson I learned through that experience and the message I’d like to pass on to you is this. People play games. We all do. We mostly do it as children but, for many of us, old habits die hard. Sooner or later we learn that life is not a game and the real business world has a harsh way of dealing with those who think they can outsmart it.
Granted, you can get away with it for a while, but you will never, ever break through to become all you’re capable of being and do great things until that fateful brick comes out of nowhere and slams you upside the head. And the truth is, the sooner that happens the better.
If you don’t think the story applies to you, you may be right. Maybe you’re a member of a rare group of people who were brought up right and developed into mature adults on schedule. Either that or perhaps you just don’t know yourself well enough yet. Give it time and I’m sure you’ll find out one way or the other.
In the meantime, better be on the lookout for flying bricks.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.