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Job Experience – Don’t Rock the Boat

The following is a guest post about a negative job experience by CT.  CT is a personal finance blogger over debtpayer.com and recently sold his prior website, Broke Professionals, where he and his wife still contribute as staff writers. 

I was fresh out of law school and new to my first full-time job.  Like I tend to do with everything, I went into it full-tilt.  I was enthusiastic.  I was excited.  I was….not realizing that I was quite possibly acting like a huge jerk

Job Experience – My Enthusiasm

The bosses probably mistook my enthusiasm as being too aggressive.   The support staff tolerated me with a “he’ll slow down eventually” attitude.  I soon began formulating a “brilliant” idea that almost ruined my career.   

During that period in time I was working 9 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days a week.  Those are crazy hours, even for an attorney.  

Due to this, I started running out of work to do, which made me sort of upset.  I began requesting more work.  My need for more to do was insatiable. 

One day while on the job I overheard one of the other employees say: “What does he think – they’ll make him partner in three months or something?” 

It was around this period in time that I did the most bone-headed thing of all:  I started telling the partners all of my “brilliant” ideas.

I pitched a blog for the firm and the partners were not impressed.  In hindsight, I now realize that when you’re new to a place you’re supposed to assimilate and humbly go about the tasks assigned.  Instead, I was coming off like a rebel-rouser at best and a know-it-all egomaniac at worst.  I looked like I was someone who from day one was immediately questioning the firm’s culture.   

That’s when I had my ultimate foot-in-mouth “brilliant” idea.

Job Experience – My Big Idea

You see, I had previously (while in law school) worked in another area of the law.  I had a very solid working knowledge of that area of the law, as it is one of the less complex areas of law.  (Insert lawyer joke here.)

So, I pitched to one of my partners about me “heading up” this area of law to expand the firm’s practice into it.  I had asked around throughout my network and I already had a few attorneys who would refer if my partners gave me the go ahead.  

The next day the partners asked to take me out to lunch the following afternoon to discuss my idea. 

That night I drew up a twenty plus part business plan.  I outlined the pro’s of expanding into this new second area of the law and how I thought it gelled well with our firm’s primary area of practice. 

I spent hour after hour drafting and revising “my vision” for the firm.  It must be admitted, my dream has always been to own/run my own law firm.  My own business of any sort really. 

I think I was acting the way I was not because I am really a jerk (at least I hope not), but because I was genuinely excited by the idea.  I thought it would be good for the firm, and yes, I must disclose, I thought it would be the next best thing to actually owning my own law firm, which I was not and still am not anywhere close to being able to successfully pull off.    

I woke up early the day of the partner’s meeting and dressed even sharper than the day I interviewed with them.

We drove separately, and when I got to lunch they were already sitting down.  I was flushed and nervous but ready to give my “presentation.”

Instead I received a big surprise.

Job Experience – Bad Idea?

The eldest partner spoke. 

We think it’s very entrepreneurial of you to come to us with this idea, particularly so early in your career.  But the thing is, we have been running this firm for decades.  We have a good thing going here.  Now, we appreciate your enthusiasm, but you have to focus on following our directions.  We hired you because we already have enough work to do, and we wanted someone to do the tasks we assign to them.  We weren’t looking for anything more and we’re not ready to change anything right now.

It was said as kindly as possible, but the words still pierced through me, particularly because I knew I had so miscalculated my place.  I had overstepped my boundaries to a nearly ridiculous degree.

I was devastated at first.  In hindsight I’m just glad they didn’t fire me entirely.  I can now admit that their putting the brakes on me was the best thing, both for me and the firm.  They mistook my enthusiasm as a challenge to the office culture.  With some maturity and more time in a full-time position, I can now totally see why they would think that. 

Job Experience – Lesson Learned

Now, I know better.  Like the frog sitting in a slowly boiling pot of water, people are often way more susceptible to gradual change.  Sometimes it’s not your job to push change at all. 

I know now that the next “brilliant” idea I have I will sit on until I am more established in the firm.  Or if the time is right, save it for myself

How about you?  Have you ever suffered negative consequences on the account of being overly ambitious or sharing your “brilliant” idea too soon?  How would you react to this story if you were the boss? 

I look forward to reading your responses. 

CT is an attorney by day who blogs about personal finance at Debtpayer.com, where he addresses being in his twenties with nearly half a million dollars in student loan and mortgage debt to try and climb out of.  With his wife, he is the former owner/creator of the personal finance blog Broke Professionals.  CT is now focusing on his freelance business, FreelancePF. 

Crystal’s Comments:  I don’t think enthusiasm or ambition is a bad thing.  I think the only lesson I would learn from this is that the particular firm I was working for doesn’t like change.  It is definitely their loss.  Some companies would LOVE someone with enough energy to run a whole new branch for them!

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19 comments to Job Experience – Don’t Rock the Boat

  • I think as well as varying by organisation, some industries are generally more open to change, while older more established ones may be more resistant. It sounds like in this case they expected you to kind of pay your dues first.

  • Wow, that must have been an awkward lunch. It must have been painful to sit through the rest of lunch!

    When I was 19 I worked at a dry cleaners, and my job was to pack up all the finished clothing. They had a very structured way to assemble orders; within a week or two I decided their way was not that good and my way was better. I distinctly remember hearing one of the older ladies say, “She has been here two weeks and already thinks she knows more than we do. . .” Ouch. I kept packing things their way :)

  • It sounds like you need to start your own business as soon as possible. There’s no reason to be working that much for someone else.

  • ODWO

    BRAVO! Great story too!

    I can think of more than a couple of times … early in life, trying to make waves, and going in with GUNS Blazing. :)

    Everyone (literally) was wondering WHY did they hire me? He’s an Ass….!

    They were used to things being done on their time, their way, etc…
    Thankfully, I had a couple of …. mentors … to show me the way.

    I can relate to the storyline here.
    Time and maturity really does make things look a little different than when/what they did “way back then.” HA!

    Sometimes, the way to move up … can be a lateral move, and sometimes even a downward move, but still in the right direction. Yours!

    “There will come a time … when your time has come!” (me) :)

    I’m quite sure it will happen for you …. it sounds like you are definitely heading in THAT direction too. WTGo! and Good Luck!

    ODWO.

  • I recently started a new job and I paid very close attention to what was spoken to me. Often times, when they expressed how they’d like me to “make improvements in the company”, it was followed by “6 months from now” or “later on down the road”.

    I realized that they wanted me to learn their way before I started rocking the boat. I’m so glad I picked up on this, because I don’t know what I would have done at a lunch like that!

    I’ll give it a few more months before I start drafting up improvements. It will probably take about that long before I really understand the ins and outs of the company anyway. :)

  • In my consulting days, I was consulting with a non profit for ten (10) months. The president told me to not ask so many questions. In some ways it was like your law firm, they did not really want changes and asking questions demonstrated what was wrong. At least I was not an employee and I chalked it up to experience.

  • EE Musings, I think you’re right that a lot of it comes down to company culture. I just wish I had picked up on the signs better.

    Melissa: Your right, when someone comes in new people take it as offensive (in most instances) if you appear too eager to question what is the standard practice. With time you may realize your initial thoughts were dead wrong as well.

    Kevin: That’s the goal. Someday. At least I have FreelancePF for now as my own business.

    ODWO: It sounds like you have had a similar experience as me with “going in, guns blazing.” The ending is, it seems, generally not so great when you go that route.

    Life and Finances- It seems you are a mature and sensible employee with a lot of great ideas but the finesse to work them in at the right time and in a persuasive manner. I’m a little envious, lol.

    Krantcents – As a consultant I can see why you would have that mentality.

    Anyone think it’s a good idea to be “ambitious” with your ideas while new at a company?

  • I can totally relate to your story – even though the details of my own situation were a bit different. Let’s just say my nickname was “maverick” :) Time and maturity helped me in the right direction as did finding that self employment suited me much more than the corporate environment.

  • I don’t think it is a good idea to be so “ambitious” at a new company. Again, like the senior partner said employees are hired to fulfill a need for the company. That is not to say that some companies wouldn’t appreciate an entrepreneurial spirit, but it takes some sensing out the situation first. That takes time. Not to mention, you have to take time to earn some trust as well.

  • I think those are good lessons learned about what to do when entering a firm, company, or other business organization. One must get the lay of the land first, sense the culture, then act accordingly.

    Whether or not big change is embraced is likely dependent on each organization on an individual basis. Some have a culture than embraces it, some reject it, others may be in between.

    The thing is, it’s ok for a business culture to be conservative and expecting an employee to do what’s told. In some cases, they have a good thing going, and want someone to do specific tasks for them. It is what it is.

    Bottom line: sometimes you have to play be the rules, and that might mean that you don’t even try to change the rules. It doesn’t mean your own entrepreneurial spirit gets cast aside; rather, it just doesn’t manifest itself in that particular organization.

    Do what they want, get the money and experience, and use it to fund the business for yourself that you ultimately want where you’re calling the shots.

  • Dana – I think part of it for me was finally getting to do what I have always wanted to do, and after years of training. I had 7 years of education and a year working for a court before I became a “full-fledged” attorney. I think I was so excited to finally get out there that in the beginning I was way too ambitious. The same thing sort of happened with me and blogging. When I first started I shot off guest posts to page-rank 6 blogs, worked morning and night on my blog, etc. With time you realize that enthusiasm is good, but the most important thing is looking out for other people.

    Optionsdude- Thanks for the insights. It sounds like you are a boss. I wish I had spoke with you prior to starting, although I know I am at a great place because knock on wood I am still around nearly a year later.

  • squirrelers

    You always give the best advice. I can now admit they probably didn’t follow my “ideas” because they were terrible and not in the heart of the firm. I feel I am a much better employee now, broken of the ambition. I still hope to have my own firm one day though, as you said.

  • I think enthusiasm is wasted a lot in many corporate places. The best thing is not to waste it in a company – instead take advantage and start your own business when the time is right. Even when you gain reputation in the existing company, it’s still not yours, and they still are thinking about themselves, not you.

  • Blake

    first off, most people that own or run businesses are NOT business people. I talk to business owners all day and sometimes you can literally hear their businesses yelling at them. Instead of the partners doing what they did, they should have facilitated some sort of plan that would not only give you some room to “experiment” as well as do all the things they need you to do. If you aren’t growing, you might already be dead lol The status quo is never “fine” and anyone who uses the phrase “we do this because it has been working or years so we know what we are doing”…. run lol anyone worth their weight in salt (in the business world) takes a step back, listens to what is being said, and makes a decision after weighing all the facts. It isn’t what is good for the firm partners… it is what is good for the business

  • I had a very similar experience when I started out in the computer industry. I was young, cocky and I wanted to push the company forward. Luckily, I had a great boss who took me aside and explained how corporate culture worked. As soon as I calmed down and started to work within the system, I got promoted and my ideas were well received. His advice not only helped me at this job, but throughout my career.

    Also, as others have said here, there are employees and there are entrepreneurs. If someone doesn’t fit the corporate culture, they shouldn’t fight it. They should put together some contacts and resources, then go out on their own. I know a lot of people who are self-employed and most of them would hate working in a corporate environment.

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