The One Piece of Career Advice I Wish I’d Known When I Was Younger
If you want a long, successful career, you will be the only constant.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
No one is looking out for your career.
My first manager out of college was amazing. He was patient, motivating and loyal to his team.
He pushed us but took time to celebrate when we delivered. This is a rare attribute in a corporate world where no conversation seems to end without asking for more.
In a short period of time under this manager, I won several top sales awards and was promoted to sales manager in only three years.
He made us feel like insiders, sharing information typically reserved for executives.
If we were facing genuine resistance, he fought for us. Not just the "I'll run it up the chain" nonsense you get from yes-men, but legitimate battling.
When an employee sees their manager in the trenches, listening and fighting for their team, it can be incredibly motivating.
We worked for one of the smallest business units in a massive company.
One day, we came in to the office to learn about an internal company merger. It was communicated in an email and from what we could tell, our small business was being merged into a much larger business.
I hustled down to my manager's office to get the scoop. He was always in the loop on this type of stuff and I planned to bust his chops for not looping me in earlier.
He was reading the same email very carefully. It struck me that he was learning about this merger the same way I did.
"I'll make some calls and see what I can learn."
This wasn't the first re-organization I had been through. Big companies go through these internal mergers for one reason.
To reduce staff.
They communicate something entirely different. Creating value, simplifying the customer experience, selling a more valuable bundle, blah, blah, blah.
The real reason is always cost reduction. The larger business gobbles up the smaller business, keeps sales and key technical resources, then reduces functions like back office, accounting, HR, management, etc.
This is especially true when the overall business is declining or flat.
We didn't learn much after that email. Two months went by and it was business as usual. We kept on working, all with this approaching storm cloud on the horizon.
My team would ask what I knew. I would mutter, "We'll know soon" and then call my boss and ask the same.
Finally, we had our annual manager's meeting after the close of the year. The first big change was that our meeting was now combined with our new merger partner.
Good or bad, we would learn what we needed to know at this meeting.
The first day of meetings was filled with presentations from executives I didn't know. PowerPoint slides explained the merger with colorful bar charts and catchy buzz words like "synergy", "better together" and "one team".
They were talking without saying anything at all, a skill I had yet to master as a young manager. The only thing I could discern was tone. It was clear that they saw our cute little business as inferior to theirs.
They had big plans to optimize us, succeed where we had failed and get us back on track. In other words, this was not a merger of equals (they never are).
Our boss set up an early dinner with his direct reports. There were six of us managers. We sucked down a drink and talked about how odd the meeting was.
We didn't know that his day had been considerably worse than ours.
During one of the breaks, he had been pulled aside and told that his position was being eliminated. After 15 years with the company, he no longer had a job.
We were stunned. This was a friend and he looked crushed.
That feeling lasted about two seconds. Next, came panic. Were we on our way out the door too?
He didn't make us ask that awkward question. He told us that decisions hadn't been made at our level and that there would be some competition for front line management positions.
There would be cuts but not as deep as the executive ranks.
"Do you know who is going to make that decision?"
"Do you know when they plan to make that decision?"
"I believe they are going to meet with you tomorrow to discuss."
It was clear. He didn't know and couldn't help if he did. After all, why would they want the opinion of an executive they just fired?
I came into that company as a gullible punk and always had this boss to get my back. I worked my tail off but trusted that he was helping me reach my career goals. He had my back.
I learned at this moment something he never told me.
No one is going to manage my career but me.
Sure, you'll find managers who care about you and genuinely push for your best interests. But, the second that their situation is in question, they have no choice but to get focused on their own career.
Up until that point, there was no Plan B. I would work hard and deliver results. The rest would take care of itself.
He invited us out for drinks. Four of the guys went with him but I broke rank with a friend.
We were on the chopping block and the likely executioner was at this meeting somewhere.
Sentiment was out. Survival was in.
We passed on drinks with our group. Feeling sorry for ourselves was not going to help us keep our job. My boss understood and gave us some tips on who we might try to talk with at the social event.
Instead, we headed out to the social event and started networking as if it would be our last.
After some time, we figured out who our new bosses would be and bought them drinks. In a loud bar, we could feel that we were being interviewed on the spot. It was also clear that they had done some homework on us already, which was unsettling.
One round led to many more as we answered questions all night. We passed that first test, stumbling home at 2AM after last call.
We went out of our way to share everything we were working on after that point. We inundated our new bosses with details about our strategy, business challenges and teams. We made the effort to get to know their entire support staff. If they gave us an assignment, we made sure to impress, knowing they were comparing us against our peers.
This was all made easier by the personal connection we made at that first networking event. Showing up at that event might have saved our jobs.
When the dust settled two months later, we both still had jobs but several of our peers did not. We had accomplished what seemed impossible sitting in that annual meeting. We survived.
The lesson for me was stark.
There is only so much your manager can do for you. If you want a long, successful career, you will be the only constant. Only you know your aspirations, fears, doubts and dreams. Your manager may love you but their first priority will never be you.
If your manager were to cut all priorities to one, that priority would be their own career.
Build a network large enough to withstand any shock.
This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: