Last week I explored the topic of asking for permission to advance. One reader mentioned that some people may be privileged to inform their bosses, but the rest would probably get fired if they informed instead of asked.
Yes, it is a highly likely outcome.
I say it’s highly likely, because it’s happened to me. I got fired for informing instead of asking.
It was early on in my career. Within a year of starting a new role, I found myself being pigeon-holed into a position, and wanted to broaden my skill-set. I decided to start taking advanced classes in Computer Science at Stanford.
Since I was paying off student loans and struggling to make rent in Silicon Valley, I decided to pursue a company sponsored program.
I informed my boss, who initially supported my efforts to advance, but over time they were met with resistance.
The resistance wasn’t overt. My boss didn’t say, “Quit the program.” Or, “I’m not going to sponsor this anymore.”
Instead, the resistance came through in the form of my boss questioning the program’s effectiveness, the value it was contributing my skill set, and amount of personal time it was taking up.
I didn’t cave to the resistance, I dealt with it.
Why did I deal with it?
I dealt with it, because I saw what happened to the others around me who caved. They didn’t get what they wanted. They didn’t advance. They felt stuck.
I didn’t want to feel stuck, but certainly didn’t feel privileged.
I felt like I was taking a risk.
But a risk that was worth taking because I wasn’t being presented with enough challenging projects or assignments.
Perhaps my boss thought I was privileged, and that’s why I got let go.
I’m sure there were multiple reasons for why I got fired, but one of them was not a poor performance review.
I saw the program as my opportunity to advance, because as a 23 year-old I wasn’t being presented with a lot of opportunities.
For the past week, I’ve sat with the reader’s assessment of my previous post, and thought about what I had written.
All week long I’ve been thinking about privilege.
What makes someone feel like they have the privilege of informing their boss versus someone who feels like they need to ask?
One part is culture.
A culture that empowers versus a culture that enforces. The person who feels privileged might be in a culture that empowers and hence feel the freedom to inform. While a person who is in a culture that enforces, may fear informing, opts to ask, or if they have even an ounce of chutzpah like I did, inform instead of ask.
Another part is worthiness.
A person who feels privileged may feel worthy. But they might also feel unworthy, because they were “lucky”. The might not feel right acknowledging their own accomplishments. They worry about being found out as a fraud, an imposter.
These feelings aren’t unique to the person who feels privileged. It runs through the mind of the person who lives in a culture that enforces as well. The latter may feel they deserve better and as a result have the confidence to challenge the culture. Or they may succumb and feel just as unworthy.
What does that tell us?
That we have similar voices in our heads.
No matter whether we are in a culture that empowers or enforces we can feel similarly.
In a culture that empowers there are an abundance of opportunities. While in a culture that enforces opportunities may be limited or nonexistent.
The abundance might be see it as a privilege. It can lead us to a dark place: entitlement.
Or it can be thought of as an opportunity, and the thing about opportunities is that we have to make use of them.
Waste is the worst thing that can happen to an opportunity.
Don’t waste an opportunity, no matter how big or small on thinking you received it from privilege or pity.
Don’t waste an opportunity, because you’re initially met with resistance or it’s hard.
Accept it, acknowledge its value, and carry on.
When I was let go, I never regretted my decision to advance. It was a risk worth taking.
And more than learning to take a risk, I learned the importance of finding and helping to create culture that values your contributions and balances it with support.
Now I’ve told you this story, not because I want you to take a risk and get fired, but because I want you to take a moment, pause, and ask yourself which culture are you in and helping to create? The one that values enforcement or empowerment?