A major—and unrecognized—danger in corporate employment

Many risks and problems in cubicle labor come to mind instantly. Foremost among them is that you can be terminated at any time.

But here’s another that has taken years for me to put my finger on: Reporting to a full-time boss (and corporate hierarchy) dulls our professional judgment.

Oh, the process is slow and difficult to detect.

But over time we slide from perfecting our output to producing what “they” want quickly and right out of the box.

By and large, this serves the organization better. They get what they will approve faster and we don’t waste paid time fine-tuning work that will get rejected.

And the longer we work full-time for the same people and the same company, the better we know exactly what they want. In fact, they often tell us exactly what they want.

In fact, when I worked full-time as a financial marketing writer, I would jot down exactly how my boss described the project and use her very words, almost as if I were taking shorthand.

Life is too short to take on every cause that comes along. So what if they don’t like a headline? They are going to win because they have the power. Or worse, after I’d make my case convincingly, they’ll dismiss me as a nitpicker.

We care a lot, especially at the beginning. Then we realize how much we suffer over details we can’t control so we learn to let it go early.

Gradually we redefine excellence as meeting expectations on the first go-round. We look at the bosses’ revisions in terms of red ink (or electronic equivalent) and try to diminish the blood spilled (by us and by them) on each successive project.

It feels like being back in elementary school again, carrying out each assignment exactly as prescribed.

By the time we try to write a resume, we have lost touch with any achievements worth boasting about. Our best performance on the job is when we do it the “right” way the first time, but that’s hardly an achievement worthy of a bullet on a “problem solving” resume.

This can be a problem when we start to freelance and consult. With less exposure to client expectations before we start an assignment, we have to get back in touch with our own criteria. And surprisingly, clients are often more open to our analysis and recommendations than our employers were.

But the biggest problem is that as we rely on the boss to determine what is good and what is bad, we lose touch with our own judgment. To be most effective as a freelancer or consultant, we must apply our own knowledge and taste and be willing to go to bat for our work in a manner that is assertive but not combative.

My own examples come from the copywriting realm, but I’d guess you can come up with similar stories whatever your specialty.

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