Why The Person I Worked Harder Than Deserved To Get Promoted Before I Did

Ad failed to load

For people who were always successful in school, spending 20-odd years winning in the classroom can be poor preparation for the business world.

Our education system conditions people to think of success as a simple function of effort, because that's how school usually works. Study more than everyone else and you'll be at or near the top of the class. Applying that same formula to your career works up to a point, but the "Hard Work Paradox" dictates that as the stakes in your career go up, working hard won't guarantee success.

I can say, as one of those people who mostly aced their academic career, seeing someone in your peer group advance ahead of you can be unnerving. Even if you're happy for the other person, it still feels like losing, and losing sucks at any age.

Ad failed to load

About a year into my first job out of college at a large consulting firm, I thought I was doing great. A good relationship with my manager, getting the hang of the business... I thought I was at the top of the class yet again. Then one day, I saw the email from my group's managing director that "Michael” (not his real name), another analyst whom I had started alongside fresh out of college, had been promoted after less than a year.

It didn't matter that I liked Michael and wasn't interested in what his new team was doing. I was a little freaked out. So many questions needed answers: How did Michael get promoted so quickly? How does our managing director even know him? Does she know what I'm working on? Oh sh*t.

It's not a reaction that I'm proud to recall, but that moment of anxiety is something to which I think many can relate. I thought that I was doing all the right things and getting noticed, and then I got lapped. The rest of us responded to the news of Michael's promotion the only way we knew how: We tried to outwork each other and catch up.

Ad failed to load

In hindsight, my reaction was as silly as it was simplistic. It was simplistic because even though working that much harder wasn't easy, it was an easy answer to my questions. I've learned that it takes zero critical thinking or creativity to just work harder. Even though I didn't have a productivity problem and was working 12-14 hour days already, I treated Michael's promotion as a call to work ever longer hours. Nothing against work ethic, but that wasn't what I needed.

What I should have done, instead, was step back and look for ways to contribute more meaningfully to the business. I should have considered what it really means to be good at your job and how to do that rather than just work "harder."

My inability to see the bigger picture robbed me of a lot of experiences in my early 20s that would have been more fun than banging my head against the desk at work. At the very least, I probably could have gotten more sleep and been healthier.

Ad failed to load

"Working Smarter" is a real thing.

The most ridiculous thing about how I handled the situation was that Michael didn't work any harder than I did. He wasn't “smarter” than I was either, or at least not in the IQ sense. So what was going on?

It took me a while to realize it, but the biggest difference was that Michael spent a high percentage of his time on things that mattered. He created significantly more value for the business, not to mention visibility for himself, from each hour of his time than I did.

Ad failed to load

If I wanted to emulate Michael's rapid ascent, I needed to create more value, not just do more of the same even faster. Understanding how Michael came to work on such cool, important projects in the first place is what led me to figuring out a better way to work.

While I was dutifully plowing away on whatever my manager assigned, Michael spotted a big project on another team that aligned with his interests and background and decided to get involved. That team was short-staffed at the time, and their work had our executives' attention because it served some VIP clients. It wasn't part of Michael's job description, but he saw an opportunity to do something bigger and just went after it. It worked.

Elite Daily on YouTube
Ad failed to load

Management was eager to shift Michael's responsibilities around so that he could ensure success on a critical project (it helped that he had some technical chops they needed). As a result, he spent close to 100 percent of his time working on something that interested him, added major value to the business and built his network in the company. When they rearranged Michael's responsibilities around, the rest of us probably picked up the slack. In other words, Michael got his peers to "subsidize" his career move.

So while I was chugging Red Bulls and putting cover sheets on my TPS reports, Michael found a way he could make the business more successful. In so doing, he sent a message to the management team that he was focused on the ultimate business outcomes — the best way to build trust with your bosses.

That's a powerful brand to have at such a young age.

Ad failed to load

When his project wrapped up, Michael presented his contributions to a bunch of other project leads. I remember seeing that senior staff felt comfortable taking off the kid gloves and really peppering him with tough questions like he was a peer rather than a junior guy who was still learning the ropes. That was the most telling sign that he had earned their trust and respect and that he was indeed on the fast track. Pretty soon, other teams were angling to get Michael onto their projects for a rotation. That's what career momentum looks like.

Here's the takeaway.

It doesn't take a genius to spend every waking hour at the office. If your plan is to simply outwork 100 percent of your peers at all times, you will inevitably fail at some point and risk burning yourself out in the process.Your energy is better spent figuring out how you can make the business you work for more successful by solving real problems.

Ad failed to load

Must Reads

I Rejected The Idea Of "The One" & Found A Whole New Method Of Self-Care

After my third date with a guy I met by swiping right, I had one question burned into my brain before I agreed to a fourth. Was he the one? Now, before you call me a total stalker, hear me out. In New York City, third dates were rare. I'm talking blo…
By Brittany Leitner

Finding Adventure In Your 20s May Be More Important Than Searching For A Soulmate

Your wanderlust is calling, so what are you waiting for? Being 20-something is all about finding your passion and purpose in life. Maybe you went to college and figured it all out between the books and long nights spent in the library. Or maybe you'r…
By Marisa Casciano

I Tried A Laughter Yoga Class & I Nearly Peed My Pants From Giggling So Hard

There's nothing funny about yoga, except for the fact that, if you look at yourself in the mirror while your body twists like a giant pretzel you'd nibble on at a baseball game, you do look kind of funny. Well, actually, you look a little like you're…
By Jen Glantz

Experts Say Doing This One Thing In The Morning Will Make You Way More Productive

I don’t know about you, but I don’t initially wake up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy; that whole “up and at ‘em” mindset takes work on weekdays. I will say, however, that I am a morning person by nature, and fully believe in the benefits of stic…
By Julia Guerra

A Psychic Read My Crystals & Said I'd Die Alone, But Then Everything Changed

I love my girlfriend for many reasons. She's the most amazing person I've ever met. She makes me feel safe. She screams the soundtrack to Dear Evan Hansen with me when we're riding in her car. But TBH, one of the main reasons I love her so much is th…
By Theresa Massony

This Instagram Star's Famous Lip Art Actually Has An Incredible Emotional Backstory

In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series, Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people…
By Lilli Petersen

A New 'This Is Us' Theory Claims It's All Happening Inside Jack's Head & OMG

Ever since This is Us revealed how Jack died in their post-Super Bowl episode (damn you, Crock Pot) fans have been desperate to know where the show is headed — and if there are any other major twists they should be prepared for. The Season 2 finale i…
By Claire Spellberg

If You're Broke In Your 20s, You're Doing Something Right

It can be pretty disheartening when you're broke AF in your 20s. The silver lining in that constant struggle with currency is that you are doing what you want during this time of your life. Money isn't everything, and creatively and memorably using w…
By Jasmine Vaughn-Hall

How You'll Be Proposed To, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Forever and always starts with getting down on one knee. Wedding season is right around the corner, and with it comes a lot of love stories. When you're watching the two do their first dance, or looking through old pictures, you remember where it all…
By Marisa Casciano

Gen Z Yellow Is The New Millennial Pink, So I Tried Wearing It All Over My Face

A few months ago, everything from makeup to clothes and even home appliances simply needed to be Millennial Pink. Being a millennial myself, I totally bought into the color craze, but there's a new hue (one that technically doesn't represent me at al…
By Stephanie Montes

These Theories About What Khloé Kardashian Will Name Her Baby Are So, So Good

The Kardashian family's future is most certainly female. The world was overjoyed when Kim K introduced us to her daughter, Chicago. We cried tears of joy when we found out that Kylie was in fact pregnant all along and had a baby girl named Stormi. An…
By Karen Ruffini

This Pup Is Going Viral Because People Think He Looks Like A Human

We all know our pups at home are beyond special. If you post pictures of your pet on social media in hopes that everyone notices just how cute your furry friend is, you're really not alone. You probably receive a bunch of comments with people gushing…
By Rachel Chapman

This Is What Staring At Screens All Day Could Do To Your Eyes In The Long Run

By now, you’ve probably heard all about how bad the glaring blue light from your smartphone and computer screen is for your sleep cycle. These claims are true, BTW, which means if technology has the power to creep inside your brain and mess with your…
By Julia Guerra

Kylie Jenner Finally Answers All Your Questions About Her Pregnancy & Stormi Webster

If someone has a baby, but you never got to see them go through pregnancy, were they really ever pregnant? It's a question I find myself asking over and over again since Kylie Jenner welcomed daughter Stormi Webster to the world. I'm so excited that …
By Hollee Actman Becker

These 3 Zodiac Signs Burn Through Relationships The Fastest

It's hard enough to find love in this dog-eat-dog world. You write the perfect bio for your Tinder profile, dress to impress, go on dates with strangers that your friends set you up with, even fork over thousands of dollars to a professional matchmak…
By Roya Backlund

Find Out Which 'The Office' Character You Are, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Long before mockumentary was NBC's favorite comedy style to produce, The Office introduced its fans to the groundbreaking style in its 2005 debut. Because it is such a realistic-looking show, the characters felt even more lifelike than most comedy ch…
By Kristen Perrone

Khloe Kardashian Shared Tips For Looking "Skinny AF" & People Are Pissed

Anybody interested in looking their best on social media might be curious about Khloe Kardashian's tips to "look skinny" in photos. When somebody takes a picture of me, I tell them to snap away as I strike one pose after another. When it comes to pos…
By Stephanie Montes

6 Things No One Tells You About Moving In With Your Partner That You Need To Know

If you’ve reached the point in your relationship where you find yourselves spending most of your time together — either at their place or yours — there’s a pretty big chance you’ve thought about living together. Taking this next step in your relation…
By Tayi Sanusi

How To Plan A Life-Changing Trip That'll Stick With You Long After You Return

When it comes to traveling, it seems like everyone is doing it for the 'Gram these days. As you scroll through your Instagram feed, it may seem like travel is all about getting that perfect shot or jumping from one bucket list destination to another.…
By Ciara Johnson

These 4 Celebrities Are Actually Twins & You Definitely Had No Idea

Mary-Kate and Ashley. Tia and Tamera. Dylan and Cole. There are some twins in Hollywood that have become super successful thanks to the fact that they are a pair. Two is better than one, right? But some A-listers have a twin who isn't in the public e…
By Karen Ruffini