Work Expectations – Using Great Albums as Framework

It is really easy to feel under-appreciated or under-utilized at work: even the most appreciated, advanced, well-regarded, and accomplished professional has this feeling sink in every once in a while. For young professionals, reconciling this feeling can be particularly daunting – the years of college and grunt-work in unpaid internships these days usually will be rewarded by a very similar job to the internship you had that pays a competitive wage. Sometimes that competitive wage pays plenty to pay the bills but not to move out of your parents home, a storyline I’m very familiar with.

These jobs can provide valuable experiences and innovation and initiative can and is rewarded but the temptation is to push the envelope, to let your anxiousness translate into bigger ideas, faster motion. This isn’t always a good thing.

Most of the great albums of the last 20, 30, or even 40 years rarely are non-stop motion. And most of these great albums share a lot with working in an entry-level job in a major corporate structure. Here’s how they relate and some tips:

1. Every new job should feel like “Hold My Life” opening up Tim, “Welcome to the Working Week” opening My Aim is True, or “Personality Crisis” opening New York Dolls

The first time I heard each of those songs, I felt like my world had changed. I felt like a door had been opened to things I had never heard before and I was excited for what I was about to hear next. This is when you know you’ve joined the right company, when you’ve joined the right team, and how you can judge if you’re in the right place. If you don’t feel like something in your life is going to change for the better the moment you walk in the door on your first day, you may be in the wrong place, even if it is just temporary work.

2. Don’t expect too much too fast. Your immediate days (number 2 track) following your start won’t be as powerful as “Little Red Corvette” or “Killer Queen”. There will be times when your second, third, fourth, fifteenth week’s second track will be “The Ballad of El Goodo”.

Don’t be discouraged when the second act at your new job doesn’t blow you out of the water like the second tracks from Prince’s 1999 or Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack. #1 Record by Big Star is one of my favorite albums but the second track, “The Ballad of El Goodo”, almost saps all of the enthusiasm out of the entire album for me. Why does this happen? On that album, I believe it’s because the first track, “Feel”, is a nearly peerless tune from that time and place in rock and roll history and “El Goodo” is good but just isn’t a good follow-up track. This is the equivalent of corporate and workplace challenge and is common. It’s incredibly difficult to carry enthusiasm for a long term project over said long term – don’t be afraid if there are days more subdued and pleasant “7 Chinese Bros.” from R.E.M.’s fantastic Reckoning and not like its powerful opener “Harborcoat”.

3. Celebrate “Born to Run” moments but realize Born to Run is not always possible.

Stay with me on this one: “Born to Run” the song is one of the most powerful, inspiring songs in American history. Born to Run is a meticulously crafted album that is the defining opus of Bruce Springsteen’s amazing career. Reaching “Born to Run” in your career, the fifth track on Born to Run, will happen. A lot. The youthful, reflective expression of exuberance. This is the midpoint definition of your career. Or an amazing milestone. Either way it is calculated, both are important and should be celebrated.

Born to Run, however, is a different animal. Too often, our emotions and anxiousness overcomes us and pushes us into a pattern of attempting to achieve perfection. More often, most great albums, as well as careers and lifes, are not like Born to Run;Born to Run is just under 40-minutes of period-defining rock and roll whereas most great albums have their misses. And sometimes a few. Take for instance the seminal power-pop album from Todd RundgrenSomething/Anything. Cover-to-cover, it is hard to argue there is a finer Rundgren piece out there. It is a great album but let’s face it – a few of these tracks are experimental and miss the mark.

The important lesson here? None of these ruin the album.

4. Be patient in your Something/Anything Moments.

These will occur throughout your career and life. Mistakes and experiments happen. The middle half of Something/Anything to this day takes me a while to get through – but everything is rewarded once “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” hits the stereo. Patience is what is key here – Something/Anything has a number of great songs and those great songs are indicators of future success. They have built credibility and assure the listener there is more great music to come. If you’re doing the right things at work, will have a “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” moment.

If not, or if those great songs seem few and far between like you’ve been sold a faulty bill of goods…

5. Move on like your time was a one-hit-wonder

Occasionally, a job looks great on paper and the first couple weeks are great but then quickly falls apart or it doesn’t meet your expectations. I call this the “Molly” Principle – one of my favorite songs from the 1990s is the alternative hit “Molly (Sixteen Candles)” by Sponge. It is among the top-played songs on my iTunes and has one of the coolest covers of all-time. But the album is dreadful. Well, maybe not dreadful, but it is boring and is not what I expected coming in. Sound familiar?

What do you do with a one-hit-wonder job? Well, I listen to “Molly” a lot. The correlation to a job? Make the most out the opportunity for as long as you feel comfortable or until you have a back-up plan and leave on good terms so that you can reflect on your time like I listen to “Molly” but skip over the bad stuff.

The truth is, a lot of jobs may end up like “Molly” whether or not you enjoyed them. We tend to forgive and forget a lot of the bad times and highlight and accentuate the good times. Our “Molly”s end up on our resumes and our “Plowed”s end up in our memories of what job not to look for.

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