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Why being an awful employee can be an awfully good thing
Plan Your Next #136
👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #136 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.
💡 What’s new?
Why being an awful employee can be a career-defining move
The best advice I’ve ever received when choosing a job was, “How can this role benefit my next role?”
Early in my career, I used to say I was an awful employee.
At my first job, I worked for a home shopping network, designing online jewelry ads and web pages selling discounted jewelry to older women who ordered mainly from their TV.
We had an unlimited sick policy, and I’d take three to five-day stretches of “sick” days while doing the bare minimum so I could spend my time learning and hustling to develop a better portfolio.
For many junior designers like me, you lived or died by the work in your portfolio.
Unless you’re savvy (I wasn’t), you don’t yet have the foresight to know where the money flows and how you can impact it. You’re grabbing at the air to produce relevant work that you can attach your name to.
Before long, I took an interview for my second job during lunch, and two weeks later, I was working in a brand new agency.
After 18 months, I quickly learned who was wading in the shallow end of the business (me) and where everyone else seemed to be swimming.
An awful, well-paid employee
I quickly put the pieces together, and after another lunch interview, I had an updated and now very dated title, GUI Designer (extra points if you get that), attached to my shiny new badge.
There was one difference: This badge was never put on because it was a fully remote position, and I was going after the cash.
I could finally work from home before it was cool, earn a decent salary, and freelance during my downtime.
Being an awful employee didn’t mean I was terrible at my job. But it did mean I wasn’t bought into the vision of what these companies were building. And my own vision for what my future looked like didn’t involve working without more upside in what I believed in.
The benefit of being an awful employee also meant the ability to network stack more quickly.
Stacking your network is about building relationships between groups of people quickly. There are some ground rules here for this to work, which may seem obvious: Be reliable, don’t burn bridges, and be a resource for others whenever possible. Simply, don’t be a dick.
If you do this early on, your network will expand beneath you like a fraudulent pyramid scheme for your career.
I had some intuition for this early, so I put a two-year limit on the first few jobs until I was able to escape the reliance on someone else. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s a chess move that can give you more opportunities later if you need them.
What I would do differently today
If I had to do it again, I would start a newsletter or a consistent blog to glue the pieces of my career decisions more neatly.
How you arrange the narrative of your career is up to you, which doesn’t always need to be a linear path. But developing a writing habit and capturing more network equity is like applying the Rule of 72 to your professional career.
If you find yourself unfulfilled or looking at the clock for too long, find a way to move on to your next opportunity before selling for a loss.
⚡️ Two creative hits for you to check out next
🙃 “Every story’s been told in a sense, but not really.”
A pint-sized comedic interview with Mike White—creator of HBO’s The White Lotus —on how he believes there are two phases to creativity. The open phase and the closed phase.
🕺 A fun and playful website for a B2B sales growth agency is something I never thought I would find myself saying. I love the illustrations and how they take a seemingly dull business and draw you in immediately.
👋 See you next Sunday
My calendar is always open to chat about your next adventure, crazy idea, or if you’re feeling creatively stuck.
My goal is to help more people give a damn about what they’re creating next, through my writing, teaching, and design. If you want to support my journey, the best ways are to make better design decisions more easily, communicate stories with better slide decks, or discover your visual style in my live workshops.
Or, if you want to sponsor this newsletter, sign up here.
Have a great week,
p.s. Words are just words, but if these words made you feel something, would you let me know by tapping on the heart below?