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May 18, 2007

The Nine Biggest Myths of the Workplace by Penelope Trunk

Brazen Careerist_ The New Rules for Success_ Books_ Penelope Trunk-3.jpg

I liked Penelope Trunk's interview so much that I asked her for more material. Here's her list of the nine biggest workplace myths:

  1. You’ll be happier if you have a job you like.

    The correlation between your happiness and your job is overrated. The most important factors, by far, are your optimism levels and your personal relationships. If you are a pessimist, a great job can’t overcome that. (Think of the jerks at the top.) And if you have great friends and family, you can probably be happy even if you hate your job (imagine a garbage collector who’s in love).

  2. Job-hopping will hurt you.

    Job hopping is one of the best ways to maintain passion and personal growth in your careers. And here’s some good news for hoppers: Most people will have eight jobs between the time they are eighteen and thirty. This means most young workers are job hopping. So hiring managers have no choice but to hire job hoppers. Ride this wave and try a lot of jobs out yourself.

  3. The glass ceiling still exists.

    The glass ceiling is over, not because people crashed through, but because people are not looking up. Life above the glass ceiling is 100-hour weeks, working for someone else, and no time for friends and family. And it’s not only women who are saying no to the ladder up: Men are as well. People want to customize success for themselves, not climb someone else rungs. So if no one is climbing to the top, the glass ceiling isn’t keeping anyone down.

  4. Office politics is about backstabbing.

    The people who are most effective at office politics are people who are genuinely nice. Office politics is about helping people to get what they want. This means you have to take the time to figure out what someone cares about, and then think about how you can help him or her to get it. You need to always have your ears open for when you can help. If you do this, you don’t have to strong arm people or manipulate them. Your authentic caring will inspire people to help you when you need it.

  5. Do good work, and you’ll do fine.

    For one thing, no one knows what the heck you’re doing in your cube if you’re not telling them. So when you do good work, let people know. It is not crazy to toot your own horn--it’s crazy to think someone will do it for you. Also, if you do good work but you’re a jerk, people will judge your work to be sub par. So you could say that good work really only matters if your co-workers enjoy hearing about it from you.

  6. You need a good resume.

    Only ten percent of jobs come from sending a blind resume. Most people get jobs by leveraging their network. Once you have a connection, the person looks at your resume to make sure there are no red flags. So you need a competent resume and an excellent network. This means you should stop stressing about which verb to use on the second line of your third job. Go talk to someone instead.

  7. People with good networks are good at networking.

    Just be nice, take genuine interest in the people you meet, and keep in touch with people you like. This will create a group of people who are invested in helping you because they know you and appreciate you. Use LinkedIn to leverage those peoples’ networks, and you just got yourself a very strong network by simply hanging out with the people you like.

  8. Work hard and good things will come.

    Everyone can put in a seventy-hour week. It doesn’t mean you’re doing good work. So here’s an idea: Make sure you’re not the hardest worker. Take a long lunch. Get all your work done early. Grand thinking requires space, flexibility and time. So let people see you staring at the wall. They’ll know you’re a person with big ideas and taking time to think makes you more valuable.

  9. Create the shiny brand of you!

    There is no magic formula to having a great career except to be you. Really you. Know who you are and have the humility to understand that self-knowledge is a never-ending journey. Figure out how to do what you love, and you’ll be great at it. Offer your true, good-natured self to other people and you’ll have a great network. Those who stand out as leaders have a notable authenticity that enables them to make genuinely meaningful connections with a wide range of people. Authenticity is a tool for changing the world by doing good.


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Another great list from Penelope. Thanks for posting!

If you can’t find a job, then you should invest in something like better grooming, or a better resume, or a coach for poor social skills. These are the things that keep people from getting jobs.

Utter bollocks. Grooming and resume formatting keeps people from getting hired? Sounds like incompetent and shallow people made responsible for hiring are who keeps people from getting hired.

Grad school generally makes you less employable, not more employable.

That's just silly. Two words: Dr. Winter.

Job hopping is one of the best ways to maintain passion and personal growth in your caeers.
Job hopping sucks when you're forced to jump.
So let people see you staring at the wall. They’ll know you’re a person with big ideas and taking time to think makes you more valuable.

I'd rather have an ER surgeon working hard than staring at the wall while I bleed to death. Having big ideas is overrated. It's how you execute the ideas you have that affects your organizational worth.

There is no magic formula to having a great career except to be you. Really you.

That statement contradicts everything she wrote afterward. She describes a magic formula, and "being you" apparently means "be the future 'you' (i.e., someone else), not the 'you' you are now."

Friendly, happy-go-lucky words and phrases that sound deep and spiritual might sell books, but they're not a platform for success. One word: Trump. Nice guys finish last.

There is one last myth that I think she should have mentioned: Some jobs can destroy your soul. I have come across a blog about drawings and other things by people trapped in the wrong job, and I have found there is still hope for myself. Just today there is a wonderful entry by a receptionist in some nursing home. Really inspiring and full of hope...

There was some research that stated that people 'happy' with their jobs are those who take ownership in it.

There was this anecdote that Dr. Udai Pareek (on e of India's foremost consultants shared) about a similar research he was doing for a hospital. He found that the gatekeeper's ownership scores were much higher and correlated with high pride he took in his job. These were higher than even the doctors' and nurses' scores. On being asked why he took so much pride in his work, he said "If I don't regulate the visitors' times, the patients won't get well".

So maybe it's not just money or relationship that guarantee happiness..but maybe something more intrinsic to oneself and not in the role/job

Enjoyed most of the points, however that bit about the glass ceiling...

Hhhmmm...so if we ignore the glass ceiling,
it isn't really there?

I've been involved with exec discussions
about assigning women high profile projects.
If the woman is young and newly married,
the odds of her getting that project
greatly decreases.

Ugly but them's the facts.

Hi Guy,

I agree with this, but on the other hand I also have to admit, that it isn't easy to find a job with this approach in East Europe... well hope we're pioneering a new approach

Hi Guy:
Great Posts! Very pertinent thoughts. I have discussed about the networking and other stuffs in my personal blog at http://www.rajeshshakya.com. Please take a look.

Rajesh Shakya

Great interview Guy. You are developing a very nice set of skills as the online Oprah of business books. It's a good thing there are about 50,000 of them written every year!

I think that all of what she has said in this and the previous post fall under #9 - build your personal brand. (Krishna De has a great blog about personal branding by the way.) I tell people that they need to think of their career as a business. If you work for someone else chances are that you are an at-will employee, but in a sense you are an independent contractor. You are trading your time, skills, and knowledge for pay. As long as you do something of value you get to stay.

Another way to look at it is this: Your business is what you are responsible for. Is there anything that you are more responsible for than your own life? So why would you put great effort into managing a business and not more into managing your life (including career)?

So be a Modern Magellan, a Thomas Edison, or a Steve Jobs. Go explore, create and enjoy but do not just sail around aimlessly.

Great post Guy!

I have many friends who are graduating college and are clueless about the realities of the workplace. I know it takes some time, and like most, we all learn from our mistakes when make the transition from college to career. I just wish some of the undergrad business schools out there would read your posts and incorporate these themes into their teachings, instead of just showing a student how to write corporate memo.

I would be curious to know how many professors out there read Guy's business lessons.

Good points, although I would not use garbage collectors as an example of people who are likely to hate their job (point 1). There is a lot of workplace satisfaction to be had from seeing the immediate positive effect of your hard work. Moreover, knowing that the very fabric of civil society would crumble if you and your colleagues went fishing for a couple of days is certainly not detrimental to how good you feel about work. You can't say that about e.g. grad school. :-)

This is a great post. Answers six through nine are right on point. I just landed a job and all those things were a factor. I read this blog and The Brazen Careerist all the time.


Very good summary! I've come to some of the ideas myself but when you read it you realize how logical it is.

I would agree with Brian that the first point could be restated. Maybe a good job won't make you happy but a bad one can bring you to suffering for sure.

Great points, these. I can identify with most of the points mentioned by Penelope. You could have perhaps avoided the not-so-subtle push for LinkedIn in point 7. And point 4 does sound a bit oh-so-goody, don't you think?

Thank you for such a great post. Great resource for discussion. Again, another reason to keep reading your blog.
On what Brian said, but how did you get there, if you do not like the setting in which you work? The mistake was committed long before you arrived there, I think.


I LIKE it! From the author of a book titled "Brazen Careerist" the entrepreneur in me feared the worst reading round 2. But she's good. And number six is dead on (see Trackback).

That said, I take exception with the first point. I agree that pay won't make you happy (we know empirically that there are diminishing returns to scale after a threshold of some $40,000).

But barring compensation, what can be said for a life spent in a setting that's misaligned with his or her skills/talents/abilities?

I agree that optimism is important in a work setting. That it's the ultimate predictor of happiness, even.

But for how long will you stay optimistic in a setting you don't like? Or in one you absolutely hate?

Restated, how can we conclude that someone is happy because he or she is generally optimistic... when there's a good chance that person is optimistic because s/he found satisfying work? Almost sounds like a question of correlation v. causation.

And it's only one thought. Good interview.

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