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Those of us lucky enough to have siblings know a rewarding, lifelong loving relationship is built upon a firm foundation of taunts, noogies and tattling.
Interestingly enough, the mean things your older brothers and sisters inflicted upon you have in fact given you valuable workplace skills.
Here’s how professional development grew where you once only saw a nagging inferiority complex:
The Quit Hitting Yourself! Game
In this time-honored game, the older sibling grabs the younger sibling’s wrist and proceeds to make the younger sibling hit herself with the hand attached to said wrist.
“Why are you hitting yourself?” says the older sibling, feigning concern. “Quit hitting yourself! Why are you hitting yourself?”
And therein lies the humor of the whole thing, because no person in their right mind would sit and inflict harm upon themselves. Right? Right.
This fun game came to mind recently when a friend told me she had finally talked to the boss about a raise.
“Ok, so what was his answer?” I asked.
“Well, we didn’t get that far.”
“What exactly did you ask?”
“I just asked what the financial situation looked like for people in the office getting raises.”
“QUIT HITTING YOURSELF! QUIT HITTING YOURSELF!” I yelled.
OK, not quite true. But when you’re not getting what you need or even want, be it guidance or a new piece of software on your work computer or even a raise, don’t hop around the question, potentially making yourself look bad and unassertive in the process. (Seriously. Quit hitting yourself.)
I’m not saying asking for a raise is easy—to be honest, it makes me break out in hives and want to curl into a ball—but if you want it so badly, just remember those hives will be WORTH an extra 3 percent.
The Puke Spot
This one isn’t exactly a widespread phenomenon, but bear with me.
In the home of a childhood friend whom I will call Jane, there was, for a good long time, a discolored spot on the carpet right outside her older sister’s room—the unfortunate aftermath of one night, when said sister’s stomach flu couldn’t wait for a sprint to the downstairs bathroom. And despite many hours of parental scrubbing, Jane and her sister avoided that spot like the plague.
Well, most of the time. But then sometimes, Jane’s sister would say, “Hey! Jane! Come here! Let’s play!” and Jane would be off like a shot, happy to be included.
“STOP!” older sister would yell as Jane arrived at the bedroom door, and Jane would freeze. “OK, hold on. A little to the left,” sis would say.
Jane would shuffle left.
“Back. No, forward a little bit!” said sister.
Jane would shift and reposition to sis’s liking until OH NOOOOOOO…
“BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” sister would say as Jane found herself having been directed RIGHT TO THE MIDDLE OF THE PUKE SPOT.
Jane is a smart person. She also fell for this many times.
Depending on where you work or what your life situation is, you could one day find yourself in the puke spot. By which I mean: taking on a new project that’s really an honor to be included in. Then working a few extra hours to finish it and maybe help on another. And then picking up the slack from that guy who left.
All of this is well and good and perhaps even seems great for your career, but keep your wits about you, because those extra demands could put you exactly where you don’t want to be… in the metaphorical work-life balance puke spot.
So the analogy isn’t perfect—unlike Jane’s sister, your boss probably isn’t trying to inflict lifelong psychological damage. Your boss may in fact offer new opportunities because she likes you. But at around the fourth or fifth new task, “opportunities” might just feel like major pains in the bum. Pains in the bum that keep you at the office until 10 PM and give you ulcers.
Lesson learned. Stay out of the puke spot.
Improving Your Vertical
Sister has that one Lego piece you really need to complete the Ninja Alien Cowboy Fortress of Awesome. Sister has three years and at least six inches on you, and is thus able to hold the Lego juuuusssst out of reach, forcing you to jump and jump and jump until one of the following happens:
(a) She gets tired of this game and just gives it to you so she can go watch Saved by the Bell
(b) Mom intervenes
But after enough jumping practice (and, yes, growth spurts), one day (c) happens:
(c) you GET THAT LEGO
Or maybe it’s another scenario. Maybe older brother plays basketball with you every day and blocks every one of your shots until one day you get one by him. Maybe you play Monopoly together and one day, even with him being the banker and continually cheating, he lands on your Marvin Gardens with a hotel on it, and he has nothing left to mortgage, because you have finally played your cards right.
Playing—and working—with people who are bigger and better and more experienced than you is frustrating. They know everything. They get more brownie points. They do it all faster than you, and yet, maddeningly, they make fewer mistakes.
But this is how you get better. And eventually, you, too, will be (figuratively) blocking someone else’s shots, and you will be able to look down and say, “This is how basketball legends are made.”
“Huh?” the other worker will say.
You could explain, sure, but you’d rob him of decades of valuable learning.
“Think about it,” you respond, nodding sagely. He’ll get it someday.
Danielle Kurtzleben (@titonka) lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as a journalist. She finds “Quit hitting yourself!” immensely funny.