We’ve all been there. We’ve all shown up to a new place where no one knows us. They don’t even care to get to know you or what you have to offer.
Now the question is “what do you do?” Should you stay in obscurity? Do you create a platform for yourself?
Living in obscurity is rough. It’s a tricky part of life. No one wants to live in obscurity. I don’t know a single adult who would wish to relive their middle school years. However, some of us find ourselves living in obscurity anyway.
While it’s difficult, there can be beauty in obscurity. (Enter the motivational posters of “The journey is the reward”). Journeying through obscurity is not for the faint at heart though.
Over my 38 years, I can reflect and see seasons of nothing but obscurity. So the question is, is obscurity something everyone HAS to go through and endure? If so, what are the best practices to journey through the darkness well?
In 2007, I started a new job in a new state. When I arrived at my new job, I was ushered into a training lab. I went through my orientation. During my week of orientation, I wasn’t even allowed to see the area of the production plant where I’d be working. It was strange, for sure. When I arrived, the people I would be working with didn’t care that I was there. Several of them reminded me many times that ‘they had been doing the job longer than I’d been alive.’
I had positional leadership. My job was a leadership role for the team. Most of my team didn’t care about my title. I foolishly believed that my title would open the gates of influence and leadership. I thought that I would give instructions and these instructions would magically be followed.
That did not happen.
I had to make a decision early on in this job. I could put my hours in and appear to be a leader and collect my paycheck and never gain leadership influence or, I could go through the long awkward path of obscurity to gain influence.
It’s possible to create a platform of influence without selling out.
Following are the lessons I had to learn and relearn in seasons of obscurity. This journey is more like a dance than it is a hike.
3 Things to work on in seasons of obscurity:
1. Focus more on becoming than doing.
A person of character is a rare thing these days. Take responsibility for your actions, words and results. When you screw up, admit it.
If you say you can submit a report by the end of the day, do it.
Your actions should match your words and your words should match your actions. No one admits to being a hypocrite, but we all are. We all struggle at keeping our word.
Excuses may help us feel better about ourselves, but they leave us lacking. It’s tempting to focus on tasks and getting things done. This temptation leads to our business. The business will lead to burn out and cynicism.
Being a person of integrity means to become a whole person. It’s tempting to compartmentalize our lives. We want to think we can become a person of integrity at work without it affecting our personal life.
Compartmentalizing our lives can lead to voids in our lives. We can have the appearance of substance, but in reality, be puffed up without content to support it.
Integrity comes from the Latin word “integer”. Legend has it that clay potters would put an “I” on pots after they went out of the kiln. This was done only if they were to be whole and complete without void.
Become a person without void.
If you say you’ll do something, do it. If you say you won’t do something, don’t.
If you want to take your wife on a date, do it. Plan ahead. Do it. Date your wife. If you don’t someone else will.
Be the person others at work can trust.
2. Clean your desk/workspace each day.
It’s tempting to allow the craziness of your life to keep you from organizing your work area. Don’t let it.
Take 5 minutes each day to clean your crap up. File paperwork. Throw trash away. Leave your area clean, especially if you share a work area.
Schedule time to file emails away as well. Don’t “check your email”.
Checking your email leads to so many other distractions. If possible set times in your daily schedule to ‘file emails’. Filing emails is a push to read, respond to the email and file it away.
How many times have you checked your email and read the email. Then never actually responded or carried out a task listed in an email? As a result, you show up to a meeting and realize you showed up unprepared. You neglected to prepare, which is what the previous email explained. You didn’t bring a report. Submit a requisition request prior to the meeting or inform someone else of the meeting etc.
Organizing your space not only clears your mind and helps reduce clutter. It communicates something about your work ethic and responsibility.
You can’t gain influence quickly. You gain influence and leadership through the long game. Winning the long game requires consistency and responsibility.
3. Turn your focus on getting results.
So, there’s this harsh reality in the workplace. There aren’t participation awards. Mean people called ‘bosses’ do this ridiculous thing like holding others accountable. ‘Bosses’ give paychecks out for an agreed-upon pay. They actually expect results from that so-called work.
In a previous job, I had to attend weekly meetings. In my weekly meetings, my boss would explain our goals as a department. He would also share his expectation in regards to— safety, quality and production ratios.
I would show up week after week reporting how I was trying to motivate my teams to meet these expectations. I would list out all the excuses I could come up with. We had no parts. We didn’t have packaging to put the assembled parts into. It was too hot. Etc.
After a few weeks, I realized this wasn’t gaining any results so I did something different. When we would run out of parts to assemble, I would communicate to the people in the previous process what I needed. I’d ask for an estimated update on when we could expect pieces. I kept a report in my notebook and reported my responses to the issues of why we couldn’t hit our production ratio.
It’s so easy to play the victim role in the workplace. My boss is so mean, clients are unrealistic or the economy is changing, etc.
You don’t control the majority of what happens to you. You do control 100% of how you respond to those events. Focus on how you respond. Your response should be focused on gaining results, not making excuses.
A guy named Todd stopped me after one of our weekly meetings. Todd said very little, but what he said was full of wisdom. He told me that no one cares about how much I try to get results. I won’t get a ribbon for trying. He told me that I should report on what I’m doing to get results.
My area sub-assembled components. Individual stations completed the sub-assembled products for the next process.
I communicated to my team that changes would take place.
I started tracking individual results.
We would hold each other accountable to the expectations. Every Monday, I posted the updated results from the previous week. Each person’s name was listed next to their production ratio. Anyone that didn’t achieve the expectation had to report to the team. They would say what kept them from attaining the expectation. They would also explain what they were going do to meet the expectation in the future.
Things were uncomfortable and awkward on Mondays. Something happened though, Mondays become my favorite day of the week. Our team held each other accountable and knew what results were needed to improve.
Best practices were shared.
We accomplished goals.
Obscurity is challenging for sure. It doesn’t have to be a place where we get lost and forgotten though. These actions have helped me and so many others. I recently asked this question on social media and the input from everyone was so helpful, I had to add a bonus.
Embrace the season and wait. The waiting isn’t passive waiting, it is waiting with anticipation.
Think of sailing a ship. If you’re out at sea and your sails are down and the wind does come, how will you move?
The list above isn’t exhaustive. I do believe it can help you start the process of raising your sails to journey well through obscurity.
Photo by Edgar Guerra on Unsplash