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Mexican Standoffs Kill Your Potential

A mexican standoff is a situation where someone has an easy opportunity to kill one person but will likely be killed in the process.


This scene happens frequently in the movies; especially the ones I like to watch.  But it also happens in the corporate world; albeit, in a much less violent manner.

Today is a Sunday, and I happened to go to work.  This is a pretty common occurrence because for the past month, everyone I work with is in the office for 10-12 hours a day (including weekends).  We have a very big conference coming up (this Wednesday actually) and we’re doing all we can to put on a great show.  This will be the most important conference in the history of our company… until next year’s conference of course!

Anyway, as soon as I got to work, my friend shot me an IM.  Immediately he started berating me and my fellow coworkers for going into work.  He started by telling me that we don’t make enough money to work the kind of hours we do.  The conversation was going nowhere until I finally talked some sense into him.

You see, my friend is like many people I’ve had the unfortunate displeasure of working with.  They only want to work for 8 hours a day; yet spend at least a few of those hours goofing off.  When their boss asks them to go above and beyond once, they immediately scoff. “How dare he?  I have a life you know!  Besides, I don’t get paid enough to put in extra time.”

In our current culture that is driven by “me” attitudes, this makes perfect sense.  We have a tendency to get things done when it suits our fancy.  Any new tasks, duties, or responsibilities (even when we’re actually at work) cross the line.

Taking a step back, we can see the mexican standoff.  The employee is thinking, “I’ll never do more unless I get more money.”  The employer thinks, “If this person will show a little initiative, ownership, or stop spending 1/2 the day goofing off, I can give them a raise.”  Well, who goes first?  Does the employer give the raise to see if maybe productivity improves?  Does the employee work a little harder and take a chance that there is no reward waiting?

For me personally, I’ll take the risk.  It’s in my nature to always do something as best I can.  But even more importantly, I like to keep my future in my hands.  I never know if my latest boss will be a gambler and I’d hate to wait to find out.  For all the people that sit around complaining how their boss won’t take a chance on them… that must be a really tough way to live.

I’ve also learned that money doesn’t really make you work harder.  So anyone who thinks they will is just kidding themselves.  At my last job, I fortunately had a boss who taught me this lesson.  I worked my butt off because that’s what I do.  And he rewarded me with some very healthy bonuses during an economy when others were passed up.  But you know what?  I don’t work there anymore.  I was offered more money as I walked out the door, but I still walked.  It turns out that money really isn’t everything.  Once your basic needs are paid for, a raise almost means less.  I left that job, not for more money, but for a future.  That company wasn’t going anywhere.  I was at the bottom of a very tall ladder, underneath many many people who weren’t going anywhere.

At my new company, I’m still at the bottom of the ladder.  And I don’t think the people above me will be going anywhere. Not that I’m actually ready to move into those spots…I have lots of growing to do still.  But what my new company has that the other one didn’t, is growth.  Today I’m at the bottom of the ladder, but as the company grows, it will grow beneath me.  In several years I’ll be near the top of a very tall ladder.  I like the sound of that.

My friend claimed that we’ll all work really hard but we’ll never actually get rewarded.  I doubt that he is right, but who really knows?  What I do know is that we all gave 120%.  If things don’t work out, then each of us know we gave all we got.  Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out but no one will ever point the finger at us.

I’ll leave you with a quote I found attributed to Thomas Edison.  Who knows if that’s where it really came from, but I was at work today catching my own opportunity.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.  ~Thomas Edison

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