Talking like you own the place

“Last year we acquired [company] and …” I was chatting with my friends about some recent business of the company I’m part of. They looked at me funny and interrupted “you keep saying ‘we‘. That’s sooo unusual.”

I always talked this way. How else should I be talking about the organization I spent over 6 years with, advanced through three positions and delivered numerous projects now used by millions of our users. I’m definitely making an impact on the day to day business of the company and if I wasn’t able to do so I’d be long gone and contributing elsewhere.

Apparently I’m and odd outlier here. Many (most?) people would refer to places they spend half their waking hours at for decades as some variation of “the company I work for” as if they firmly tried to distance themselves from someplace unpleasant. That’s what we do with people—when we don’t like somebody we use words to create distance:

  • revert to formal titles “Mr Smith”, “Mrs Jameson”, then
  • depersonalize references, replacing them with “this man” or “that woman”, reaching extremes with complete
  • dehumanization at “that miscreant” or “those idiots”.

The equivalents for a company would be:

  • “Google” (fill in your company name),
  • “the company I work for”,
  • “sweatshop”.

The moment I catch myself saying “the company I work for” will be my trigger to make major changes. Either in employment or in attitude.

A corporate career may take you places

Fame and fortune, in smooth ascent from line employment to richly compensated CEO, is what so many find appealing in working for global corporations. While not in vogue among the hordes of eager entrepreneurs and freelancers we have these days, for many people it remains a perfectly valid career choice. Success depends on how soon you’ll realize that this path is not smooth at all, often times surprising, and always comes with a price tag.

Big companies differ from smaller ones, or start-ups, in that they offer plenty of space. With thousands of employees worldwide, there is a broad selection of positions situated vertically and horizontally from yours, matching your ambitions and talents. They also offer greater liquidity (to borrow the investing term), in that at any given moment there will always be positions open somewhere. Maybe a person got promoted, leaving her past desk vacant, or maybe it’s a whole new opportunity—a new division being built or branch getting expanded.

Those windows are yours to take, providing you accept the conditions.

Since these companies operate around the world, your perfect opportunity might pop up somewhere far away from whatever you consider home now. Perhaps you live in Warsaw while a new office opens up in Singapore and needs someone experienced with the business to go set it up. You’re being offered the position, since you’ve been doing a great job so far and demonstrated competence beyond your current role. Here’s your airplane ticket and we’ll take care of shipping your belongings. What say you?

Dilbert sent to Elbonia

Make your decision

An eye-opening lesson I received a while ago from Garry Marsh, participating in his training, was that at all such crossroads one needs to determine:

What do I really want, what is the price and am I prepared to pay it?

Garry Marsh

Moving always means leaving behind pretty much everything you’ve built up so far. You know your town so well, how to move around, the friends you have here, your lovingly arranged apartment, even your favorite hairdresser who always has these great ideas for hairdos—all gone, you’ll start again from scratch. You may not even like the place you’re being offered. Singapore is nice, but what if it’s some poor, underdeveloped country, or a remote place with nothing but stretches of dust around?

Of course you can always say “no”, because you have your family and friends here, and everything you know and love—we understand, no hard feelings. But the next time a great opportunity appears, you might not be considered anymore, having been labeled as the “stay at home” type of person. Which is fine if staying close to home is your priority, but again, “home” is a much smaller pond than the world and so many fewer chances to win this lottery.

Make sure you set your values straight before an opportunity pops up, and choose accordingly. In the end, you’re in pursuit of happiness, so if you’re finding it at home, stay right there and look out for local options. If you do, however, decide to move around a bit, some preparations will save you from a ton of headaches.

Stay light

Certain decisions—like marriage, kids and buying real-estate—will impact your mobility, and need to be made thoughtfully. This isn’t to say you should stay single and live in hotels, but it does mean you’ll need a spouse willing to follow you, and that renting will likely be preferred to owning.

Case in point: a friend of mine was buying his own condo, where he was planning to move in together with his girlfriend. He signed the letter of intent and paid a small advance. Soon after they went separate ways, and he started to work remotely and travel at the same time. Needless to say, the apartment purchase was broken off and he lost some money on that—a cost he was willing to carry, and much better than falling for the sunk cost fallacy, but still avoidable, had he inspected his values earlier.

Make your everyday decisions mindfully—small and large things you acquire: furniture, kitchen appliances, decor, clothing. Would you really want to drag ten pairs of shoes across the world? Or this beautiful, gigantic picture from your living room? There are companies that make a lot of money offering “temporary” storage for people on the move, and you’re about to entrust them with all the stuff you never use but still keep “just in case”. Whatever you decide to store with them is probably what you don’t need at all. Get rid of it. And don’t assume you’ll come back. Maybe so, maybe not.

A radical, efficient way of cleansing your belongings comes from Paul Klipp:

A week ago I put everything I own into boxes. My closet was empty. I resolved to remove what I needed from the boxes, when I needed it, and to put it in the closet when I’d finished using it. In that way, as time goes on, my closet will become filled with only those things I really use. What’s still in boxes can be recycled, sold, or given away.

Paul Klipp, Stuff

A conscious decision and a light lifestyle. Certainly not for everyone, but if you think it’s for you, start practicing today. Talk to your spouse—that might be the toughest step, but providing you chose a life companion who shares your values, you should be fine. Review and purge your household of things you don’t use. Then do what you’re already doing—deliver excellent work, stay connected to a network of resourceful people and look out for your opportunity.