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Maybe Unicorns can Fly

The saying goes it’s isn’t what you wish for in life, it’s what you work for. The price of success is supposed to be hard work, dedication, and applying the best of ourselves to the task at hand. But, the corporate world and life generally doesn’t always work this way.

I always caution professional colleagues who come to me for advice that to succeed in the corporate world you need to remember two rules:

Rule No.1: Never expect hard work and dedication to be enough to succeed.

Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.

But, this week an organization I used to work for picked the absolutely right person for a senior management position. A really good guy too. They picked the technical professional, that dedicated staff member, the experienced pro, the proven leader who can deliver, a real people person, versus a real schnook who we all thought had it in the bag. (Schnook is not a curse word in case you’re reading this and are from Egypt).

My God, what’s going to happen in the World next? Snow in DC in April? An Egyptian as a lead scorer in the premier league? Definitive proof of no collusion? Someone else like me who doesn’t eat with his mouth open? Oh, common.

I have to say for the organization in question, I had lost faith in senior management, and the fairness of the recruitment process. Outcomes like this rarely happened when I was around. Management proved to so many of us a long time ago that hiring for senior positions in that organization was like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean doesn’t become dirty. But, where I used to work there the ocean itself was dirty, and most of what you ever got in the hiring process was smut.

I knew so many people in my old digs that gamed the system like champs. Muhammad Ali would have been proud. So many people who for any gain would gladly sell their soul forgetting that righteousness is better than silver or gold. I guess that’s what you call corporate culture.

The line of people bamboozled and cheated out of what was rightly theirs always inevitably seemed to come to me for solace, and worse yet, advice. When they appeared at my door, I always gave them my standard pep talk. It went something like this: You can't win unless you learn how to lose. It’s not about you, the system is corrupt. They’d always be so frazzled, so sad, so broken. And, do you know why? The bottom line is when you compete for a job in the corporate world, If you win, it's you; if you lose, it's you. Black and white. Nowhere to hide. The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall. And, losing can be so hard, so devastating, so demoralizing and dangerous to ones’ self confidence especially if you’ve done everything to succeed, especially when you’ve done everything by the book.

But, someone this time actually got the job they deserved. The system worked. So, now what do you say to the guy who just won the lottery, the guy who got exactly what he deserved purely from hard work and dedication?

How about this? Congratulations, but remember my friend success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people like you into believing anything is possible. Yup, success is like a beautiful seductress hitting on you at a bar, emboldening you to think you can work hard a second time and climb the corporate ladder even further. And, I ask you this, did a beautiful seductress ever hit on you at a bar? And, if it did happen, did it happen more than once? Knowing you, I don’t think so.

Gosh, but can this success be repeated based purely on hard work? No, no, not likely. A long shot at best. For this to repeat, you’ve got to at least regularly kiss up to the boss, this is a given. Marry the bosses daughter, a sure prerequisite. The next step means you need to come from many a nepotist society and be linked by blood to someone higher up other than a goat herder.

So why am I talking about you in second party? So let’s cover some territory together shall we.

What you achieved my friend is unbelievable. A senior management position earned solely by hard work. There has to be a catch. I’m just realizing now from watching too much TMZ that in Hollywood you have to sleep with Harvey Weinstein to get a serious part in a movie, and he’s gross. Or, like in Hollywood to succeed you need to have a well to do uncle. Did you ever stop to think how someone as untalented as Nicholas Cage gets acting jobs? Look it up for God’s sake. But, I know your family and you don’t have a Nicholas Cage uncle.

You didn’t sleep with your boss did you? Yuk, he’s even grosser than Harvey Weinstein. OK, I know, you’re as straight as they come so I accept this to be a long shot. You’d also be too scared of your wife. And, I know your family, all goat herders every last one of them. Remember, these were your exact words old friend. You said it, not me.

Wow, did you really get there the old fashioned way, solely by commitment and hard work? A formula that had failed for so many others before you? Wow, then maybe the tooth fairy does exist, Santa wasn’t a lie and all the good stuff under the tree at Christmas wasn’t your goofy grandparents after all. Next thing you know your kids will start believing that all you need to get good grades in school is to study hard. And, maybe unicorns do exist.

Well, good buddy, and since I know your reading this, It turns out that some patches of the ocean where you work aren’t that dirty after all. Even if it’s a very very small patch, that’s a good start. My faith in humanity has been partially restored with your appointment and maybe tonight I’ll sleep a little better knowing that nice guys don’t always finish last. And, maybe, just maybe, what you just pulled off will reaffirm to many that unicorns don’t just exist, but they know how to fly. There will be doubters, but they’re just fools.

I truly am extremely happy for you and proud to know you. And, sorry about the goat herder stuff too. It was pure gold the first time you said it. Goat herders they may be, but with you they did well, very well.

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