How to Survive in Corporate America
A few years ago, I plunged head first into Corporate America after a decade of working for myself, and honestly, there are still some days I feel like I’m a spy behind enemy lines.
A huge reason why I worked for myself for so long (and still do in some capacity) is because deep down inside, part of me is anti-authority.
You’ll never find me yelling, “Fuck the system! Burn everything down!” while standing on a desk at the office (mainly because I don’t currently have a desk at the office…or an office).
My flavor is a little more subtle and based on the idea that none of us know what the hell we’re doing — teachers, parents, and CEOs included.
In my mind, people in the world of business decided to try and make sense out of all the chaos by doing the same thing we all do:
They made everything up.
From “synergizing” nonsensical words into existence to the very concept of a “pre-meeting,” business people started making this stuff up in order to maintain some semblance of control in a very out-of-control world.
I figured instead of fighting it, I would help others steer into the skid.
So, grab your company-branded coffee mug, get cozy at your desk (wherever that is right now), and make sure you’ve checked all of those “important” emails.
Whether you’re just entering the workforce or you’ve been around for awhile, here’s how to survive in Corporate America.
Accept your time isn’t your own
One of the hardest parts of joining the rat race was acknowledging the fact I no longer controlled all of my time. It was bizarre waking up and seeing tentative meetings already on my calendar from people I had never met (and then receiving a LinkedIn invite soon after). Can you imagine if this was standard practice in real life? Picture random strangers (or even *gasp* your in-laws!) claiming chunks of your time without asking first. It would be absolute madness.
Get political (even if you don’t like politics)
It’s no secret that every person in every meeting has their own agenda: prove they’re not entirely full of shit, prove why they deserve that raise and/or promotion, prove why meetings on Friday afternoon are pointless as hell (as you can see, there’s a lot of proving going on here). Not matter what it is, figure out why you’re in the room and then align with others who make sense. Think Game of Thrones, but way less complicated (and still just as anticlimactic).
Assume there’s a backchannel for your backchannel.
Whenever you’re in a meeting (virtual or otherwise), just go ahead and assume everyone else in said meeting is talking about you behind your back (or in this case, right in front of your face). Yes, even if you and a few others are providing real time commentary via Slack, there’s a 100% chance every combination of people in your group is also talking shit on each other. Ahh…nothing like the smell of corporate theater in the morning.
Learn the language
Yes, you’re fully aware half the words you use on a daily basis make zero since to normal people outside of your company. Yes, you cringe every single time your boss tells you “synergize with other departments” especially when you know he regurgitates most of what says from Shark Tank. And yes, you’re all-too-familiar with that confused look your clients get when you start talking about “leveraging their current assets in order to maximize gains.” As much as you hate the words coming out of your mouth, you know that ultimately, they’re one of the reasons no one ever questions you (or anyone for that matter).
Practice your smalltalk
As someone who despises empty chit chat, I find it baffling how some people in Corporate America have an uncanny ability to talk about anything, anytime, anywhere — yes, even while waiting in line for their first coffee of the morning?! How the hell is everyone always so freaking cheery? Sure, being likeable and charismatic probably makes your job easier, but it just sounds so exhausting (and this is coming from an extrovert who isn’t afraid to have heart-to-hearts with complete strangers). It kind of feels like your first week of college when you repeat the same script while meeting someone new at a party: “What’s your name? What’s your major? Oh, I think I know someone in your class!”
Communicate early and often
I know, I know. You hear this enough as it us, but it really does make a difference, especially when shit’s hitting the fan. If things aren’t going well with a client, your boss is going to want to know while it’s happening so they can hopefully salvage what’s left. If the first time they’re hearing about it is in a very intense email explaining why they’re taking their business elsewhere, then you’ve definitely waited way too long.
Manage expectations like a boss
Sorry, did I say manage expectations like a boss? What I meant to say was manage the expectations of your boss. From setting your own goals and priorities to delivering helpful PowerPoint decks in the knick of time, find ways to make their life easier. You know what they say: happy boss, no job loss! That’s a thing people say, right?