Smoke, Mirrors, and the Pursuit of Substance

There’s a lot of BS out there. 

There are a lot of gullible people out there. 

Put those two together and it’s a very dangerous formula.

I work in an industry that thrives on numbers- stock prices, valuations, economic data. Revenues, revenues, revenues. How much revenue were YOU responsible for in the past year? That question is a bit harder to answer. There are a lot of cooks in each kitchen, a lot of hands grasping for attribution. And frankly they all deserve some recognition.

Because of this, there are also a lot of qualitative measures used to derive the value of any one employee. The phrase “perception is reality” is like gospel in my world. And perception is a funny thing, isn’t it? Your reputation precedes you in groups of people you’ve never met before. Some people actually become legends, tall tales of Wall Street. Is what they say about these famous (or sometimes infamous) folks true? Mostly, no.

As a woman in my business, I’ve seen it many times. While I’m sitting at my desk, keeping my head down, working hard and waiting for someone to notice my hard work, dedication, and most importantly, tangible results, the guys around me are taking flight. They become heroes based on one great transaction and their star not only rises, but becomes brighter and brighter as others sing their praises. They remind management of their achievements. They don’t suggest, rather they demand they are worth more than they were before. They want wealth, they want elevation, they want world domination.

But so do I! I want it all too! So one day, I ventured to ask for it. “The ask”, if you will. I started to ask for more. More responsibility, more recognition. And I learned those squeaky wheels do in fact get the oil. I actually learned something from the grandstanders, the soap box superheroes. I realized I should simply be one of them. 

At home but also at work, women like me often want people to read their minds, and get quite ticked off when they don’t. I left two jobs before I realized I wasn’t not being rewarded for my good, hard work; I simply wasn’t telling anyone I wanted to be. Duh! 

The key ingredient is confidence. Many of these guys truly believe they are the cat’s meow, and I was pretty sure my results were better than theirs. They were just telling a better self-story. Once I realized that what I wanted wasn’t irrational or greedy at all, that my substance was so much more, well, substantial, I was no longer worried about being shot down. In fact, I found myself much more comfortable in my role once I knew my superiors and I were on the same page about how good my results really were- I just had to stop hoping and praying and remind them (and everyone around me) in some not so subtle ways. 

The bad news is substance doesn’t always prevail. The smoke and mirrors will almost always garner the biggest bumps, secure the management roles, prolong the careers of many who should’ve been the shown the door long ago. But truth is a funny thing, and something I’m pretty dedicated to pursuing. So while I will likely keep watching the BS-fueled rise of rockstars in my industry, and in life, I know I don’t have to stay in the mosh pit either. I belong on the stage too, I might just take the stairs. 


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