The No. 1 Rule for Getting Ahead in Today’s Workplace

May 23, 2012

The Wall Street Journal‘s blog about balancing work and family, The Juggle, ran a post recently about rules for getting ahead in the workplace. It was a response to another piece called Nine Rules Women Must Follow to Get Ahead.

How ironic, I thought as I read them, that the ONE big piece of advice I’d give anyone who’s looking to get ahead in today’s new, ever-changing workplace is this:

DON’T follow any of the rules.





Don't follow the rules





Did Mark Zuckerberg follow the rules? (Not even when it came to his wedding.) Or Steve Jobs? Or [insert the name of your idol here]?

Am I following the rules?

Most everyone who’s successful has bucked the norm in some way, colored outside the lines. They didn’t follow the rules because when you follow the rules, you become like everyone else. And the only way to become something great, to rise above the status quo, is by NOT being like everyone else. (Like this idea? Click here to tweet it.)

This makes sense on a meta-level, and it’s an easy concept to support in theory. But what’s far more difficult — and what will actually affect your life — is whether you put it into practice way down at the nitty-gritty, oh-so-practical level.

That means putting in extra effort to write a cover letter that’s not your resume regurgitated. It means suggesting and following through on ideas that no one else in the office has thought of. It means leaving your 9-to-5 to work for yourself even if you have a “good job.”

It also means being able to tell good fear from bad fear, and knowing when it’s time to take your leap.

Because you’ll never get anywhere by following the rules. You’ll spin your wheels, frustrated that you can’t find a job (when you could create your own) or get the attention of the person who matters (when you could make your own luck) or [insert your dream here] (when you could go about it in a completely non-traditional way). If you follow the rules, you’ll find yourself stuck at the status quo when you have so much more potential than that.

So break the rules. Take a risk. Put yourself out there. That’s the ONLY way you’ll ever truly get ahead.


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    7 Replies to “The No. 1 Rule for Getting Ahead in Today’s Workplace”

    • Bonnee says:

      Well said Alexis! The only way to get ahead is to get real; stop being part of a formula like everybody else and do your own thing, your own way. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Platform Boy says:

      Yes. That goes for book publishing too.

      I’ve finished my memoir and won’t be (after mulling it over for years) seeking agents and publishers. I’m breaking that rule. And I intend to have a long and prolific career as an author. I’m a journalist, but I’m not famous or special, which prompted much angst about rules of “platform” and “query” and “word count” as I pined for the gatekeepers’ approval and investment. Eschewing those rules, in terms of motivation and creativity, has been a great breakthrough.

      My platform is this: I’m a new author and I have a great book.

      My sales strategy is this: Go to Amazon, my book’s there, right alongside “Marley and Me,” and “The Sun Also Rises.”

      People want great books, so my marketing strategy is this: Give them one.

      Read this from independent author Jill Homer, she’s a rule breaker too:

    • Mary Rhodes says:

      Love your advice, don’t follow rules, it’s so true. My theory is what ever the herd is doing do it another way!

    • So true! Although I did Journalism at uni, I so far have done everything the wrong way round – I even proposed to my husband 5 weeks after we started dating.

      For me the biggest thing was doing my OWN thing instead of chasing other people for work. And now that I’m fantastically busy with my own things, I’m suddenly getting more and more offers for my skills because I’ve proven I can do it for myself instead of other people.

      So far everything is working out a lot better than I hoped.

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