Be a Slacker: Work Less to Accomplish More
There’s no universal definition for a slacker, but the word loosely describes a person who will do anything to avoid work.
Every family has one. Maybe it’s your cousin, uncle, or sister-in-law who always asks for money and never pays you back. Or maybe it’s a nephew who never has cash but always wears nice clothes and has the newest iPhone.
Every team has a slacker, too. It can be someone who comes in late, leaves early, and doesn’t contribute much to a project. Sometimes it’s the person who isn’t overly concerned with professional relationships and does not care about the growth of a company. Work slackers are seen as opportunists who cheat the system and think they’ve got everybody fooled.
Slackerism is not only frowned upon at the office, it’s weaponized—especially if you’re a person of color. Your well-intentioned attempt at work–life balance might be somebody else’s excuse to throw you under the bus.
It’s not uncommon to unlock the next level of your career and still feel unhappy. But it’s important to know that the feelings of contentment and personal accomplishment don’t come from working sixty hours and hearing “good job” from your boss. They come from confidence and maturity. You’re doing great work when you solve problems, learn something new, and then spend time away from the office to support the people and activities you love
Professional detachment—the act of pausing, reflecting, and treating your job like a puzzle to solve instead of an extension of your identity—saved Deanna from leaving her company. She hasn’t labeled herself as a slacker, but I’ll do it for her. And you, too
Focus on being the best version of you. Work with integrity. Be professionally detached. And most of all, be a slacker.
Bet on Yourself: Beat Impostor Syndrome and Believe Your Own Hype
Did you plan to be an actress but wind up in pharmaceutical sales? Were you dreaming of life as a teacher but found yourself working a corporate job to pay your bills? Did you go to school for journalism but land as a volleyball coach at the YMCA instead?
Welcome to having a happenstance career.
If you just wound up in your job, know this: you’re not alone. There’s a long tradition of tumbling headfirst into a career or industry. There are no solid numbers on what percentage of the population has a happenstance career, but the world needs talented people who fell into jobs like a phlebotomist, library clerk, and luggage handler. We need accounts payable managers, warehouse workers, and customer service representatives. If you are helpful, your job matters. All work is important and dignified when it’s rooted in service, regardless of whether or not you planned for your career.
Happenstance careers can be as great or as miserable as any other path. People love a job that offers great pay, benefits, flexibility, and the opportunity to pursue outside interests. But it feels rotten when the boss is a jerk and the mood is negative. And it’s worse when the atmosphere is toxic and nobody cares about the workers’ well-being. In those instances, it doesn’t matter if someone planned for that career or not.
if you’re stuck in a job that eats at your soul, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Are you bold and brave? Do you take risks and voice your concerns? Would you raise your hand in a meeting to share your thoughts?
Or do you leave your job every day with mixed emotions because you didn’t say the things you wanted to? Are you enduring bullshit from coworkers because you’re waiting for your kids to go to college—or the magical milestone of retirement, whatever the hell that is? Have you considered following a dream or taking a risk but stopped yourself because you think it will fail?
There is no change without loss, no dream without risk. Don’t blow opportunities to move forward in life because you’re waiting for a sign to take a risk and bet on yourself.
This is your sign. The time is now.
Fix Your Money: You Can’t Quit Your Job if You’re Broke
The problem with asking for more is that most people do it at the wrong time.
For example, let’s say you just read an article about asking for a raise. The advice was solid, and you’ve drawn up a business case to outline the way you’ve helped your company earn more money. In your pitch deck, you’ve created a compelling narrative that links your specific actions to increased revenue and greater organizational visibility in the marketplace. You’re a rock star, and it’s time for your boss to show you the money.
Most companies offer raises and promotions at specific times of the year. You get reviewed at the end of the year and raises come in January. You talk to your boss in May and then mid-year promotions and raises come around in July or August. Even when you’re courageous and finally ask, your off-cycle request won’t go anywhere. So, step one, let’s fix your money and get that raise by asking at the right time.
Here’s an overview of how corporate compensation works. There’s a season to everything. If your company is publicly traded, the seasons are probably clear and well known. They might be posted on the company’s intranet or found in the employee handbook. If compensation cycles aren’t clear, you have an HR department. Go talk to them. If you work for a privately held company—or a small-to-medium-size organization—you might have to ask around or befriend the longest-serving administrative professional for the inside scoop. But either way, it’s crucial to nail down a compensation cycle because it can take an act of God to push through a regular promotion and raise, let alone an off-cycle merit increase.
When you finally find someone with insight on how people get raises, be ready with questions. Figure out when you should approach your boss for more money or a better title. Discover what language and word choices you should use. Ask about the best supporting evidence to collect and present. And ask yourself, “How could this go wrong?”
Always Be Learnin’: Use Your Brain for More Than Work
The Internet loves life hacks. Want to remove grass stains? Use soda water. Need to make a tasty grilled-cheese sandwich? Use mayo, not butter. (It sounds gross, but it’s delicious!)
Unfortunately, there are no life hacks for learning at work. As much as you want to know the top three things to say to your boss for a raise—or the seven ways to close a deal with reluctant prospects—the workplace doesn’t operate that way. Human behavior is much more nuanced than articles on the Internet make it seem, and there’s too much variability in our personalities for these hacks to be effective.
But if you’re looking for the next closest thing: get a mentor.
Be Your Own HR: Have Your Own Back at the Office
The first few days of a new job are awkward and terrible for many individuals, but not for everybody—and not always. Think about the best job you’ve ever had (if you had one). Chances are your first ninety days were fun and challenging. You laughed a lot, got to know people, and made a bunch of friends. Your goals were clear, the company was supportive, and you spent those days taking care of business without thinking about politics, infighting, or drama.
You don’t need more than three months to determine if a job is a good fit. You know the first time someone asks you to do something you aren’t normally inclined to do: Can you work late? Would you mind making a few extra calls? Can we talk about things that are bothering me?
If you say yes, enthusiastically, to extra emotional and professional work in the early days, the job is a fit. If you hesitate, it’s an important indication that something is wrong. That’s why the best HR departments will work with you right away to help you feel connected to your team and invested in the organization’s goals on an emotional level. If you love the people around you and trust them, you’re locked into those relationships and will gladly demonstrate discretionary effort.
Unfortunately, far too many of us don’t have access to great leaders who understand the importance of interpersonal connection. It’s up to you ultimately to invest in relationships during the first ninety days. So do it. Take an early and active part in your own onboarding. Hit the ground running by asking questions before you even start.
How can I get to know my colleagues before day one? What’s the best way to learn about cultural norms? Can I connect with IT ahead of time, so my new laptop and phone are ready to go? Is it okay if I connect with my team before day one?
Quittin’ Time: Leave with Dignity and Money in Your Pocket
People resign from work for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you landed your dream job out of the blue. Perhaps a recruiter approached you with an opportunity too good to pass up. Or maybe your spouse’s job is forcing a relocation to another part of the world. Regardless, leaving a job can be bittersweet—for you and for your colleagues. If you love your boss or the people you work with, saying goodbye is often heartbreaking. Instead of rationalizing your emotions and pretending that nothing will change, it’s important to honor your feelings and say what’s on your mind. Don’t leave without telling people how much they meant to you. Even if the words are inelegant and clunky, try.
If you have another opportunity lined up, leave and move forward. Say goodbye to your colleagues who helped you grow. Throw a party. Eat some cake. Reflect on how bittersweet it feels. Figure out if you’re going to stay friends.
Take a risk. Just make sure you’ve submitted your letter of resignation first.
It’s on You: Tips to Fix Work in Six Months
PICK A NEW THING AND DO
Why try one new thing? Well, many people forget that life isn’t about their jobs. It’s about relationships and experiences. Trying something new is an act of hope and a declaration of purpose.
Take a cooking class. Read one chapter in a book every night before you go to bed. Explore your heritage on genealogy websites. Write thank-you letters. Volunteer at the local retirement community. Train for a 5K. Digitize your parents’ old photos. Spend your evenings researching and planning your next vacation. Organize your bookshelves by color, subject, or even the Dewey decimal system. Bathe your dogs. Clean out your garage.
Accept accountability and spend your time and attention differently.
If you don’t enjoy it, pick something else. You’re choosing more than an activity or hobby—you’re prioritizing yourself.
GET A BEST FRIEND
There’s nothing like having a best friend at work—someone who has your back on good days and bad.
Want to fix work for yourself? Look outside your immediate environment and seek individuals who share something in common with you. Maybe it’s a passion for animals, or even a love of fancy cars. When you find someone, don’t be afraid to take a risk and say, “We have something in common. I’d love to talk about it.”
If they decline your invitation, keep looking. Don’t think about all the people who turned you down. Rejection is just a moment in time. Think about the person out there who feels just like you—lonely, misunderstood, stuck—and who would enjoy having you in her life. Never stop searching for that significant, life-changing relationship.
Brené Brown has a saying: people, people, people. She’s not wrong, but friends, friends, friends. The quickest path to happiness is to fix work by fixing it for a friend—even if that person isn’t in your life just yet.
FIND YOUR PURPOSE IN UNDER SIX MONTHS
First, document the reasons you show up for work. You can use a sheet of paper, scribble in the margins of this book, or create an inventory in Microsoft To Do, Nozbe, or Google Slides.
If you need some ideas, try these: Student loans. Rent. You can’t find another job that pays more. You need new clothes. You send money to your family back home. You dream of retirement. You are saving for a new home. Your kid plays an expensive sport and you want to support her.
Don’t overthink it. Sentence fragments are okay. If you struggle to get started, set a timer for five minutes. When it dings, walk away—even if you have written nothing—and try again tomorrow.
Once you have a list, you can move on to the next step.
Step two is telling me what you gain by going to work. Lay out the benefits you receive from your job. Here are some suggestions: Salary. Health insurance. 401(k) with or without company contributions. Paid time off. The satisfaction of providing for your family. A higher credit score. A possibility to shadow your boss during client visits and learn something new. Work travel to exciting cities. Access to new and emerging technology. Fun coworkers who always know when you’re feeling blue. Meaningful work that fuels your soul.
If you’re struggling to create a list of benefits, do the same thing as before and set a timer. Remember to walk away before you feel frustrated.
Done? You’re ready for the final step, where we craft a clear statement on why you work and what you gain from the system.
“I go to work to_______________, and my job gives me _______________.”
“I go to work to pay off my student loans, and my job gives me a paycheck. I go to work to fund my future somewhere else, and my job gives me the autonomy and freedom to figure out my path. I go to work to earn enough money to donate to animal rescues, and my job matches my contributions 100 percent.”
Even on the most oppressive days, this exercise helps you see you are not a victim.