Playing the game at work

I’m watching reruns of Friends on Comedy Central to celebrate the show’s 20th Anniversary. Friends has a very special place in my heart – it was Friends Season 2 that scored me my first ever front page on a national newspaper. As a wide eyed agency account handler, I was in PR heaven but it was only much later on in my career that I began to flourish after a stark realisation about work.

If I could speak to my 21 year old ambitious self again, I would only have one piece of professional advice and that would be to ‘play the game’.

In the early days, I was too busy grafting to look up from my keyboard to notice that the real career breaks were happening right under my nose. I couldn’t work out why I was being passed over for promotion until my office boyfriend remarked, “Do you ever put your coverage on X’s desk, invite X for coffee or tell X what accounts you want to work on? You’re not playing the game Lynn, everyone else is.” Having a career strategy was the last thing on my mind, I just wanted to do a good job and please my clients.

My 40 year old self on the other hand knows that having a game plan is vital if you want to get ahead in business. The corporate world can be unfair and dysfunctional if you don’t know how to work the system or think you can rise above the politics. And there’s the rub. If you really want that promotion but don’t have the appetite to play the game then you’re probably in the wrong job.

After years of gainful participation, I’ve observed that the game never stops, everyone at every level is jockeying to be top dog, to be proven right, to be noticed. Corporate life can be exhilarating almost addictive when it’s going your way but exhausting when you’re being whipped and your principles are being tested.

It’s not surprising that the current job drought has pushed talented graduates to use their digital edge and entrepreneurship to opt for self employment and create start-ups. The traditional corporate options pitched to Generation Y on the university Milk Round seem so out of step with their cultural map. The result is these young guns are carving out career game plans before they’ve even left college. They’re rewriting the rules – so sit up, take note and don’t underestimate the impact.

As a Generation X-er who has become self-employed for the first time, I’m excited. It’s a whole new ball game; I just hope I’m fit enough.

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