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Workplace Principles I Know at 36, I Wish I Had Known at 21

by | Nov 25, 2022 | Success

I’ve accidentally had one of those careers they make movies about.

In my early 20s I built a startup to over 100 employees. In my mid 20s my entire career collapsed and no one would talk to me.

In my late 20s I got a minimum-wage job and had to start again. And by my mid 30s I was working in banking with some of the biggest tech companies in the world.

Here’s how I suggest you navigate the workplace to have an amazing career.

The “Comfortable Pain Principle” can destroy your potential and cause you to have regrets

Author MJ DeMarco came up with this one.

We’ve all worked a job where we felt comfortable. Where the job is pretty easy and we know everything likely to happen.

Then a new opportunity gets presented to us that we know is good for us and we reject it. We stay in comfort because it feels good and safe.

A tolerable job pays you just enough to access mediocre comfort. The downside is it causes you to become a human being that won’t ever change a damn thing in your career.

All seems well for a while.

Then you get later in your career and realize dumb people who are half as good at their job as you have got ten times further ahead and get paid a lot more — and you’re still stuck in comfort, earning a mediocre salary that barely covers your bills any more thanks to inflation.

Principle: Chase career discomfort. Embrace imposter syndrome.

Don’t shit where you eat

This is an Aussie redneck saying I love.

The idea goes it’s a bad idea to take a poop in, say, one spot of a camping ground and then eat your dinner in the same place.

You want to eat and poop in different places.

This metaphor is commonly applied to the workplace. It means you shouldn’t date co-workers if you don’t want to face unprecedented trouble.

I broke this rule many times.

I just loved to hook up with fellow colleagues. The first time it happened everything worked out fine. But the final time it happened it negatively affected my career.

The fling started off well. We had puppy dog eyes for each other. I followed her to every meeting just so I could see her. I even shifted my desk from one skyscraper to another so we could be inches apart.

Then things got nasty.

We had a fatal disagreement in values (blame religion). We decided to break up. The problem is we kept bumping into each other everywhere we went. My boss and colleagues found out.

Pretty soon most of the company knew. I was embarrassed. Everywhere I went I felt those judging eyes looking at me. And not everyone knew we broke up because we didn’t announce it.

So we both kept getting asked “ohhh how’s your sweetheart?”

I eventually had to leave that company to escape her memory. Later on I found out several managers didn’t want me on their team because they thought I might try to date their staff.

Principle: Fall in love outside of your employer.

Taking notes makes you look like a genius

As a junior in banking I knew nothing about finance.

I was one of the few people on my team who didn’t have a finance degree. So to look smart I always took my work iPad with me and took notes.

“Shall I write that down as an action item everyone?”

As I documented meetings and sent out the email summary (extra visibility) at the end, it accidentally made me a leader.

My co-workers started to ask me tiny questions that were actually decisions. Later on I asked my boss if I could attend his leadership meetings and take notes so I could hand out the action items on his behalf to save him time.

He got extra time back. I got to hear some of the biggest meetings in the company and get an edge none of my co-workers could ever dream of.


For example, I’d hear about restructures before anyone else, so I could position myself to end up in a better role after the ax came down.

I once heard the story of a Google employee who took notes too.

He attended many meetings with the two founders that he shouldn’t have been in. But when anyone asked his role in the meeting, he just said “I’m here to take the notes” and nobody questioned him … LOL.

Note-takers look smart and learn faster.

Don’t comment on appearances

I made the mistake many times of commenting on appearances.

“Ohhh when is the baby due?”

That one comment got me into all sorts of trouble. Turns out my co-worker wasn’t pregnant at all and had struggled with weight since I last worked with her.

How someone looks has nothing to do with how they perform or the business challenges you face each day. Keep your mouth shut to avoid offending someone and ruining career opportunities.

Sarcasm is a recipe for disaster

I like to joke around.

With one colleague I used to jokingly compete with him on his sales performance. He loved to sell the “business foundational package” which was the budget option our employer offered customers.

I kept joking about.

One day I get called into my manager’s office. “He’s made a complaint about you. You’re embarrassing him in front of everyone and it’s made him upset. We may have to let you go because of it.”

What seemed like one innocent comment nearly got me fired.

The way you interpret sarcasm may be perceived as bullying by another. It’s best to be straight up with people at work. Sarcasm often hides a character flaw — in my case, I was hiding dark mental illness with sarcasm.

Give the other side more of the value in a negotiation

Most people in business are transactional.

As a result they burn good relationships with too much selfishness. Offer slightly more value to the other side in a work negotiation, and your generosity will secretly attract more opportunities.

Selfishness is an unconscious turn off many people lead with.

“Strategy is easy. Execution is hard.”

(Alex Hormozi)

Those in the workplace who insist on constant strategy sessions are plain lazy. Don’t become one of them.

The problem with strategy is the business world moves so fast now that most strategies are dead before they’re finished. You get paid in your career in direct proportion to how much you do, not say.

Don’t burn bridges like an adult toddler

There have been many times in my career people have wronged me for no good reason. They lied or stole or threw me under the bus.

Our ego tempts us to react to the injustice and fight fire with fire. It’s especially tempting when you’ve quit one employer to join a new one to get your revenge on the way out.

“I’ll show those suckers.”

Don’t do it, it’s a trap. The people you burn bridges with will show up again in your career. I 100% guarantee it.

Get used to silencing your ego and letting people who wrong you destroy their reputations on their own.

Focus on being a “batteries included” employee

As kids we got toys. Some had moving parts that required batteries to make them do their thing.

There was nothing worse than getting a toy that didn’t have batteries included and having to get ya mother to take you back to the shops to buy some. It could destroy a play day.

A reply to a tweet introduced me to the batteries included framework. Basically some workers come to the office each day with energy included and can happily create it for others around them.

Other workers come to work with energy not included and need others to create energy for them.

Batteries included employees have intrinsic motivation. They’re a joy to be around and it’s hard to articulate it. This is the sort of employee you want to become.

Don’t become a problem spotter. Become a solution spotter and create energy through basic positivity.

Work for the best leader, not for the best salary/bonus/perks/logo

Many of my colleagues loved to brag about their job titles or salaries.

While the perks had the new car smell for a few weeks, after a few months the smell turned to a giant fart.

They learned the hard way that they got some extra money but scored a job with the devil who took up all their free time, called them on Sundays, and trapped them in a job they hated.

I did something different.

With every job interview I focused on interviewing the leader I’d work for to ensure they were a top bloke or badass woman.

The starting salary and bonus were often not as high, but I had less drama and could work on my side hustles, which made me 10x more than any salary ever could.

Plus once those good leaders I worked for got to know me, they’d often try to get me pay raises and help me climb the corporate ladder.

It’s better to have an advocate as a manager than a few extra dollars that come with debilitating mental health issues.

Why jobs become painfully boring

Throughout my career I’ve worked plenty of jobs that became boring snoozefests. I thought it was because I was doing the same thing every day. Turns out I was wrong.

A job becomes boring when you do the wrong thing every day. A job isn’t supposed to be boring. If yours is, it’s a red flag.

Principle: if work feels boring then it’s time to try something else.

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