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Making Right Choices @ Work
Yay Padua Olmedo
OMF Literature Inc. Mandaluyong City
All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Going Up? Making Right Choices @ Work Copyright © 2010 by Celia P. Olmedo Cover design by Nixon Na Page design by Dorothy Joy Quan-Cheng Published in the Philippines (2010) by OMF Literature Inc. 776 Boni Avenue Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila www.OMFLit.com ISBN 978-971-009-052-5 Printed in the Philippines
Foreword—Menardo G. Jimenez, Jr. . . . . . 5 Introduction A Special Treasure? . . . . . 7
1 2 3 4
Reality Check: you’re a bottom-dweller . . . . . 13
Up the Ladder: the fruit of faithfulness . . . . . 27
Stand on Higher Ground: the best in whatever you do . . . . . 41 Words have Power: expletives deleted . . . . . 57
No Signal? Gotcha!. . . . . 71
6 7 8 9 10
Cords of Steel: the power of working together . . . . . 87 Real Riches: not bought with gold or plastic . . . . . 99 Joy’s Anatomy: establishing a secret place . . . . . 113
Fit or Misfit: in the world but not quite . . . . . 129
It’s a Done Deal! just walk in . . . . . 145
In memory of Cyd Latunio-Esquivel of Campus Crusade for Christ. Her life may have been short, tribulation-filled even, but she used every opportunity to share Jesus.
A Map for Your Journey
The availabiliTy of so many books on leadership and topics related to “making it” in the workplace makes you wonder if there is space for another one. But if you go through many of these books, some are too theoretical, some are too practical, some are not in tune with the changing times, while some just aren’t interesting. In many cases, we find business books written by people who have never practiced their craft in the real world. Though that in itself isn’t bad, I’ve always found the most effective books to be the ones written by those who have experienced what they are writing about. I can’t imagine a cook book being written by someone who doesn’t cook. It just doesn’t quite cut it. Yay’s book is a balance of everything. While she drives home principles, theories and more importantly values that will help a person navigate through the corporate maze, she draws these principles not from textbooks but from actual experience, as she herself rose from the ranks in some of the country’s biggest companies.
In many respects, this book is like a map. It helps guide you. A map can’t take you to the place you want to go. You have to ride in a car or start walking to get there. But a map does guide you where to turn right or left, or what to do when faced with a fork in the road. If you want a “heads up” on what you may experience in your corporate journey, this book will give you the insights. Finally, a distinctive of this book is that it is written with a lot of wisdom. A lot of business books are filled with technical knowledge. But in truth, it is wisdom that will help you make the right decisions and take the right path. God once asked a young man what he would want most in the world. The man asked for wisdom. And he went on to become the most powerful man of his time. For those starting on the journey into the wild and crazy corporate world—here’s a map to guide you along the way.
Menardo G. Jimenez, Jr.
Senior Vice President/ Head, HR and Business Transformation PLDT (Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company)
A SPECIAL TREASURE?
am i living up to my calling as a Christian? Do I make the Father God smile by the cool way I respond to temptations or challenges? Do I ever sense Him saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when I choose to obey? Do my colleagues trust me enough to share their joys or pains, knowing that my response would be compassionate and prayerful? Or is my life more like a candle flame, whose light flares up, or flickers and sputters depending on how hard situations press in on me? Have my peers and superiors in the workplace labelled me as a weird religious fanatic who loves to preach but sorely lacks credibility, quite insensitive to the realities around me?
Can you relate to these questions? Perhaps, on the other hand, your colleagues don’t even know you are a Christian! Do you struggle to live Christianly in your place of work? Because — to be honest about it — being a “believer” in the marketplace can be like paddling a small and fragile boat against a great current. Do you find yourself asking God, “What am I doing here, Lord?” There is no easy answer, because God doesn’t see things from our viewpoint. His ways are definitely higher, His purposes greater. And part of His plan is that Christians should demonstrate His love to a world that seems clueless about its downhill ways. We are Christians in the workplace. We’re not trying to make a big production about it. But we do hope to make a difference in an arena where pride, self-centeredness, ambition and greed seemingly take center stage. You may be a mechanic on a factory shop floor, or a clerk in a bank or a trading company. Or you may be an executive assistant in a posh multi-storey enterprise in Makati, a sales supervisor in a mall or a call-center representative. Whatever your position, as a Christian you have been called to shine your neon light of faithfulness, integrity, and excellence, in the workplace where He has placed you. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, “Expect the workplace to be a scary place populated by stony-hearted people. . .” However, you’ll soon discover that mostly everyone
A Special Treasure?
has his or her own degree of dysfunctionality, not to mention values that may differ from yours. Many of these men and women manage their working day quite well, either quietly getting along in a low key way, or with flair and pizzazz and an extremely professional air. In the workplace you’ll meet some of the nicest, most helpful, even brilliant people. . . but there will also be some who are scary, autocratic, even. . . a few who are jerks. In my years as an employee working with some of the big corporations, I had my own bouts of insecurity and I handled some matters clumsily. I also experienced boredom at times, and sometimes felt a helpless resignation to what I called “the fate of the have-nots.” I’ve been intimidated by others’ intellectual prowess, indifference, and sky-high egos. I’ve been wrung dry by urgent assignments, needed “yesterday.” Was I a miracle worker? Did they really expect me to meet every urgent demand? I entered the workplace a self-centered believer in my own ability. God so ordered my path that, one day, I met Jesus in the company I worked for, and — as the cliché goes — my life has not been the same since. God gently chiselled something more attractive from my proud heart, and I learned to trust Him, in spite of my fears and doubts. Many times, I admit, I steered away from God’s path, and so often I depended on my own “skill” and ability instead of allowing Him to lead me step by step. But I did eventually
come to understand I was in the workplace for God’s agenda, not mine. Rummaging through my treasure chest of workplace memories, I have sifted out lessons I believe are worth passing on. I’ve tried to group them into chapters, but not every topic stayed neatly in its compartment, and you’ll find some overlap — because life is like that, everything connects. I trust you’ll see overlap with your own work circumstances too, and that you’ll identify with some of what I describe. Humbling circumstances. Coping with ever-increasing responsibilities. Excelling at times. Being careful (or careless) with your words. Keeping your integrity. Valuing teamwork. Managing money. Keeping your joy intact. Fitting in. Knowing what it means to live as a Christian in the work place. We all have to “learn the ropes.” Progress from theory to “putting it into practice.” We enjoy the rewards too — promotion, pay increases. A definite “yes!” to that. But as a follower of Christ, you can’t let these material things define you. There’s definitely more — much more — to success than having gold in the vault, and having the title deeds to a mansion, and owning the fastest fully loaded convertible in town. It may not be easy to believe, but I am confident you are in the workplace at the appointment of the Sovereign God, for His special purposes. This book has been written for Christians in the marketplace. I’d like to help you avoid the pitfalls of compromise,
A Special Treasure?
and recognise the rewards of living by His guidelines — even live with His empowering. He’ll prove Himself amazing. May you make a difference in the work arena He chose for you.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
M A T TH E W 5 : 1 3 – 1 4
In my first draft of these pages I headed this section, “Peculiar?” — from the verse in Exodus 19 where God says His people shall be “a peculiar treasure. . . above all people.” That’s what we’re supposed to be: His treasure. Not weird. Not preachy. Not snobbish. But showcasing Jesus — reflecting His excellence, faithfulness, love, compassion, wisdom, peace, grace, and forgiveness. He will provide whatever weapon of faith you need to wield for every situation. Enjoy your workplace roller-coaster ride; it will certainly have its highs and lows, and it can be great fun too — for as many years in the workplace as He allows. Welcome each new experience as another lesson, another growth opportunity, and another stepping-stone towards your dream. You have His marching orders . . . .
you’re a bottom-dweller
CenTer-of-The-universe, that was me entering the work place. And I woke up one day soon after that, struggling at the bottom of a vast ocean. But I needed that. Humbling experiences are part of growing — they help shape us and mold our character. Welcome to life. Discover some relevant thoughts in the Bible.
Consider these Bible insights:
The fear of the Lord teaches man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
P RO VE R B S 1 7 : 3 3
In other words, humility puts you on the right track.
Do not despise these small beginnings.
ZEC HARI A H 4 : 1 0
It’s okay to start at the bottom.
A faithful man will be richly blessed.
P RO VE RB S 2 8 : 2 0
Guilty as charged
When I entered the workplace I thought I knew it all. I thought I had it all figured out. I had performed well academically, so I expected companies to be eager to employ me. Don’t most of us rate ourselves a little too highly? Me? Room to improve? Need help or advice? No way! But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I still had much to learn. Have you discovered this yet? Were you, too, ready to take on the world? With your own perspective on life? Your own rules? Your overflowing confidence. . . expecting to take the workplace by storm? “World – here I come!” Then comes the big thud. “What happened, dude?”
The baggage we bring
I had good parents who taught and modeled for me the values of honesty and integrity. But I felt the least among eight siblings. One day, this least-valuable-in-my-family label got hammered down firmly, like a stake deep into my heart. We had guests for dinner and there I was, dutiful bunso (the youngest), serving food to our guests. Giving me a once-over, one of the visitors asked, “Katulong n’yo?” (Your house help?) I wanted to vanish into thin air but held my breath to hear my father’s reply.
Tatay replied, “Ah, ’yan ang pinakamahina sa mga anak ko.” (She’s the least-endowed among all my kids.) I felt a flashflood of emotions I simply could not describe. Robbed of my self-esteem and totally insecure, I resolved to work harder to prove my worth.
For trying out loud
This brings us to the T-H Factor (Trying Hard). Boy, did I try hard! I set out to prove my father wrong, becoming thoroughly competitive and motivated to win. Hopelessly argumentative, I became a fiery orator, representing my high school in inter-collegiate competitions and bringing home the gold. Getting involved in school politics, competitions and extracurricular activities, I became something of a campus figure, especially in college. Graduating from college with honors, I had a job awaiting me in a TV network belonging to a multimedia powerhouse of that era. I could make it in the world after all. This “I” thing must by now be boring you. But at some point, without God in our lives, that’s what we naturally become — self-centered, me-minded, hub of the universe. I let you peek into my psyche. You have your own reasons (or… excuses?) for becoming who and what you are today. But whatever the cause or the circumstance, all of us tend
to have this secret sense that we are the center of the solar system. Until something pulls us back to planet earth.
My first job required me to conceptualize and write copy, scripts for print ads and TV, and radio plugs for the TV station’s programs. Having majored in communication arts and gotten excellent grades, I thought the job would be easy. But I was in for a surprise. Discovery one: I wasn’t the hotshot I thought I was — what we learn in school is just a drop in the bucket of what we need to know to do well in the corporate world. Discovery two: As an employee, I couldn’t dictate the rules of the game. Companies follow standards and procedures which dictate performance quality, and as a newbie you just have to abide by them. Some bosses guard the system against out-ofthe-box thinkers who may rock the boat or challenge longheld corporate values. I never learned that in school. I never knew “the boss” might even be my main challenger, inhibiting the creativity I brought to the workplace. My supervisor in the TV station was a veteran journalist. His smile was as rare as rain in April, as they say. But his mellow modulated broadcaster’s voice had women callers swooning. If only they knew! This was the man who made me feel so incapable and unsure of myself.
A “cum laude” on your diploma may have opened doors for you, but in the workplace, your superiors judge you not by your resumé, but by results. Can you deliver the goods? No matter how well you scored academically, you are a greenhorn when you first step through the portals of the corporate world. Here are people who’ve been there, done that. It didn’t take me long to discover I was at the bottom of the food chain. Just like Oscar in the movie Shark’s Tale. He thought himself invincible until he woke up and realized he was just a small fish at the bottom of the big ocean.
Starting from scratch
What’s it like at the bottom of the food chain? To be the small fry that the top men and women chew up for breakfast? The first day you reported for work, you were probably given a position description. Mine said “copywriter,” and detailed my duties and responsibilities. Note, however, the last line: “Performs all other functions as delegated by superiors.” “Other functions” can mean literally anything. If you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, there’s no one lower down for you to boss around. You may be called on to requisition supplies, deliver memos to offices on another floor (we didn’t have the internet when I started work, okay?), make coffee for guests, and run last minute errands.
Then, there’s another catch. You’ve been hired, yes, but you may still be on probation. What?! Isn’t that for the likes of Hollywood pasaway (wayward) stars like Paris Hilton, who after being jailed for a short period, must show evidence of good behavior? Well — probation in the work place has its similarities. As you work your way through a probationary period, your bosses will watch like hawks, fine-tooth-comb your character, scrutinize you for any tendency to start a rebellion or cause unrest, discover if you will be trainable, or scan you for leadership potential. My first three months in the company were a disaster, at least from my point of view. Feeling choked every time my writing got the red ink, I planned on leaving the job at the earliest possible opportunity. My real nature was rearing its ugly head. I was too proud to accept that I was still a learner. Or that someone could be better, or perhaps wiser than me. Wow, that attitude in a new worker really sucks! And it’s an attitude easier to observe in others than to recognize and correct in oneself. Do yourself a favor. Take an honest look at yourself now, and make the adjustment.
My boss reported to a lady manager whom I regarded as the epitome of sophistication and success. Her mirthful voice and her laughter were the counterpoint to my boss’ dead-
pan severity. She also appreciated her staff, and passed out compliments for the accomplishments we turned out. I determined to model myself on her. She gave me leeway to express my ideas and work with the department’s artists. Then she let loose the reins, allowing me to get involved in producing station plugs with the help of mainstay talents and technical staff. Soon I was doing some editing, musical scoring, voice-overs, and even directing for station commercials. Wonderful! But I still felt restless; I wanted out. Then early one morning before going to work, I turned on the radio and got only static. Groups of anxious employees were milling around at the gate of the TV station. Barbed wire and uniformed military men prevented us from going in. President Ferdinand Marcos had declared Martial Law and all media enterprises had been padlocked. For what seemed an eternity to those of us in the industry, broadcast companies and newspapers — apart from those owned by families close to the administration — were banned from operating. After the dust, so to speak, had settled, more media enterprises were allowed to go on the air again. I found myself working for another TV station. But it was a close call. You don’t realize the value of having a job until someone snatches it away from you without giving you the chance to fight. Let God be the one who decides if and when you should move to another workplace.
A bit wiser
Martial Law or not, life continued. Businesses started to rebound. A bit wiser and definitely humbled, I left the broadcast world and joined a large manufacturing firm as editorial writer in its public relations unit. Looking back and reviewing the positions and companies eventually added to my resumé, I am amazed at how God steered my path — in spite of my skewed sense of self in those early days, and my constant whining.
Am I teachable?
Do the opportunities for learning ever stop? Never. What about the humbling? Those opportunities keep coming too. The more responsibilities I handled, the more I realized that I knew very little. But I was discovering that each job presents opportunities for learning too — different ways of understanding situations, or people, or even God’s sometimes mysterious ways. Key to making the most of each experience is attitude, having a teachable spirit. It starts with acknowledging your limitations. I found I learned more quickly too, when I realized that what was important wasn’t my set of abilities — what was important was allowing God’s grace and gifts to work in me (or you), as He gives us wisdom to persevere.
In one of the Gospels, Jesus tells of a master who went on a journey, entrusting his servants with talents while he was away (Matthew 23:25). To the one who doubled his five talents, the master said, “Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” To use Old Testament language, “It’s God’s desire to prosper you.” But more than that, He wants first to set your heart right. In my case, it seemed that whatever job I handled led to promotion. I performed to the hilt and seemed to step easily into higher and higher positions as I moved from one unit or employer to another. But deep within, I knew something was amiss. It was only when I stopped, to commit my whole life to God, and to His Lordship over daily details, that I realized all my personal striving had led me downhill. I had become a very proud person.
The Bible’s book of Proverbs is full of cautionary lines, including two verses I felt I should learn by heart: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” from Proverbs 16:18, and “The fear of the lord teaches man wisdom, and humility comes before honor,” found in Proverbs 15:33. The Lord dealt with my pride in many ways. Truthfully, I struggle with it even today. The difference between “then”
and “now” is that since committing myself to the Lordship of Jesus in my life, I have the Holy Spirit teaching me daily to guard my heart and humble myself before God. As I write about this here, I hope I can save you from some of the grief of learning these things “the hard way.” Rather than trying to manipulate every situation, train yourself to let God choose your appointments. Let Him be the one to lift you up. I learned, too, as I progressed in my professional life, not to underestimate the value of the man or woman in his or her first job. The working man has value, no matter how far down on the organizational ladder he is. He may be the janitor who sweeps the floor and polishes your table everyday. Or an office clerk who photocopies your reports and makes coffee for you. All of us are learners, and work attitude is more important than a job title. A certain Brother Lawrence used to “practice the presence of God” even as he worked in the monastery kitchen. You may have heard this line from an old hymn by George Herbert, “Who sweeps a floor as for the Lord makes that and the action fine.”1
“Do not despise these small beginnings,” says the messenger of the Lord in Zechariah 4:10. Do not “pooh-pooh” a small role. Sometimes a small part is our opportunity to learn, or the opportunity that puts us
The original quotation is from Martin Luther.
in the right place at the right time for something greater. A small role is important because it is part of a team effort. We see examples all around us in the world of nature. The world of ants demonstrates for us that each responsibility is important. Worker ants take care of the young and the queen. Senior-citizen ants take care of digging and other nest work. In microscopic “ant-land,” you’re in the big league if you’re promoted to foraging for food, in fact the most dangerous function. We too are microscopic — in the grand scheme of things — in the expanse of God’s creation. And as science unfolds the intricate details of our make-up, it only bears out King David’s assertion in the book of Psalms, 139:13–14, that he had been knit together in his mother’s womb and that he had been fearfully and wonderfully made. As a precious creation of the Creator God, you definitely play an important role, wherever God has placed you now. No matter what role you have been assigned, no matter how inexperienced or experienced you may be, your God-appointed task must yield one hundred percent commitment. Even in the corporate world, you serve the Lord God.
From the bottom up
If you start at the bottom, there’s no way to go but up. A valuable lesson young professionals must learn early — especially
if they come to the workplace as aggressive and I-me-andmyself-centered individuals — is that honor and promotion come more readily to those willing to learn, those who are willing to get down and get greasy doing what might seem to be menial tasks, and experience inconvenience along the way. Often we will be challenged to do something we’ve never done before. These tasks can be pretty humbling and possibly involve some risk-taking. Bosses often try to inspire and motivate subordinates with rhetoric such as “Ride the boat with us so we can inhabit that isle of overflowing abundance with our vision and mission.” Or, “Have a slice of that great pie called market share. Strive for that towering spiral known as sales growth.” All these, of course, translate to you receiving your pay every 15th and 30th of the month. Honestly, the salary is not the most important part of the reward. For those who are faithful, willing to learn, and willing to start from the murky bottom, something far more exciting and rewarding awaits.
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