Be a Team Player – Or Don’t
Living on my own as a teenager, I had to work hard to pay for basics like rent, gas for my car and food. I did stints in retail, food service and sales – and had one brief job on a stationary assembly line. The company that hired me (not knowing I was too young to legally work on the floor) assembled stationary gift packs – stacks of pretty papers shrink wrapped and placed in tiny drawers which were then placed inside small decorative boxes.
I was hungry – literally – and went at the job with loads of enthusiasm. I can still remember being on the line, shrink wrapping small stacks of paper and moving the stacks on to the next person, waiting to be placed in the tiny drawers. For what is was worth, I wanted to be the best shrink wrapper the company had ever seen, so I moved as fast as I could. The product of my labor piled up, overwhelming the next person on the line, a 30-something woman who was kind, but annoyed.
No one around could understand why I was working so quickly and why I was so enthusiastic about stationary. My work was fast and it was accurate – but I made the woman on the line after me look bad and I caused a jam in the line while also setting myself up to stand around and wait for the person on the line before me to provide me with more work. Now, the people on either side of me appeared to be doing a bad job and they quietly resented me.
I wasn’t trying to hurt the other members of the team. I was a struggling teenager desperate to find a way to support myself, so I worked as hard as I could. Eventually, someone outed me as being underage and I was forced to leave and this seemingly insignificant job moved to my rearview mirror.
However, I still think back on my time on the assembly line because it taught me some valuable lessons.
First, no one is going to care how great your work is if they don’t like you. Taking the time to help others around you, thank them for their contributions and get to know people on your “assembly line” makes all the difference. In my life today, this means developing strong relationships with the professionals who support me and provide me with tools and products I need to grow my business and service my clients. I actively look for connections between business acquaintances and try to help everyone around me when I can.
Second, not everyone is cut out for working on a team day in and day out. I consider myself a team player, in the sense that I want everyone around me to be successful and I am more interested in praising those around me than in receiving accolades for my work. However, decades of work have taught me that I work best when I have the freedom to move forward as enthusiastically as I want without waiting for others to catch up. I try not to put myself in situations where my creativity and drive will be stifled. I would encourage others to likewise seek out opportunities – or create their own – that suit their particular work styles. Set yourself up for success and choose your work carefully.
By the way: I’m no longer struggling to eat – but I’m still hungry.