Getting promoted

I’ll keep it easy for you. ‘E-Z’, as you have learned to write it in your Generation Y classes[1]. To be underpromoted it’s linguistically necessary to be promoted in the 1st place. This necessity involves set theory and some philosophy. It will hence have to remain unexplained presently as at least set theory requires more than mere passing interest in knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Anyway, as linguistic necessity is the one necessity that I simply refuse to call into question, I need to start at the start: at getting promoted

Let me introduce Alex to illustrate this. Alex is conveniently formatted following the ‘how not to’-principle of management training examples. He is at the same time sufficiently likeable (read: like us) to allow relating to him sympathetically[2]. He is, in short, an attempt at a good ‘bad example’.

Alex is short for Alexander. His father named him so because it gave him supreme pleasure to append (silently in his thoughts of course) ‘The Great’ to that. His father was something of a self-made man. Like so many pre-generation X’ers he realized a jump into the lower middle of the upper middle class. A jump that had left him, the father of Alex, chronically dissatisfied. His life had been so hectic, constantly busy with the frantic activity required to jump away from the upper middle of the lower middle class, that he didn’t take time to think about it. Then it hit him: there were loads of stuff which he originally believed could only be realized by jumping to the next social class that remained unrealized in his life. When that thought (of what he had ‘really’ wanted) came, it came well after the age where it was even conceivable to actually still start doing it. So, Alex’s father had to settle for the cooking club.

For himself that is. At that time Alex happened to stumble into the non-rebellious type of puberty that leads to an utterly critical acceptance of all parental choices.  Alex’s father (Alex preferred ‘Alex’ to ‘Alexander’ as he was somewhat taken aback by the idea of people associating him to any greatness) did on the one hand ‘side’[3] illustrate the melancholy of his fatherly self-sacrifice in not realizing this non-work stuff. He also made it, on the other hand ‘side’, perfectly clear to ‘Alexander’ that the latter was most definitely expected to jump to, at minimum, the upper middle of the upper middle class. “After all,” Alex’s dad mused – using these two words to indicate that it was a matter of culture and work ethics and hence undebatable – “you[4] have had everything you could have wanted during your youth.”

Alex disagreed. Alex thought this was all a bit unfair. But he didn’t want to come over as lazy and he thoroughly panicked any time he imagined a life less luxurious than that of his childhood. So he complied. He became an economist with a rather mediocre secondary skill in violin playing. Only in university did he realize he was rather good at soccer. When he realized it, he also realized it was too late for that.

Alex thusly hit the ‘company’ in the 00s feeling like a double zero. The first zero on account of there not being a single extracurricular activity in which he was able to develop a lasting interest in (not even in the more elite sports that his parents tried as last ditch attempt at coercing him into paths that might bring fame to their single child family unit). The other zero because, as he assembled his wits behind a laptop screen that the company had procured for him to contribute to the KPI’s of same, he felt none of the work ethic he knew he needed to feel. Actually, he felt most profoundly unhappy. He felt like crying but had only learned how not to, in public.

“Why on earth is she telling us all of this?”, you wonder.

Because I feel like it; that’s why. Because it is inefficient. Because it is the type of thing you and Alex (and I) were indoctrinated against: digressions, meandering & reflections on reflections. And also: because I worked with Alex. I wasn’t his boss. I couldn’t help him. He reported to a guy called Udo, the type of manager that is at bottom just a blob of organic material in support of a suit that is in the busyness of walking around for the good of the company[5]. Alex was lost from the get go and when I met him I saw right away in his eyes that he’d be struggling. In fact, by the time I took a real interest, I knew for a fact that he wasn’t going to make it. He was almost immediately dead in the water.

Alex had this tendency to take real interest in stuff. It annoyed the hell out of Udo – it really did too. Udo would say: “Just put it in bullets. I need it in bullets!” You do need to be able to reformulate bullshit into bullets. You just can’t leave a boss-man without ammo, now can you?[6] Alex was unable to put anything in bullets. He was too interested in what it was about. He would keep on asking questions about it. He really was unstoppable that way. Never mind how stupid the content of it all was, Alex would want to get to the bottom of it (as the big boss once told all of us in a speech we should do). It really got on everybody’s nerves. It certainly did get on mine sometimes. There is no place for naïveté in a context where 95% of all of the social interactions are basically bullshit, bullshit used for posturing, in service of the eternal fight to become the dominant male of at least a small part of the herd.

This was Alex’s problem. He wasn’t just a perfect nobody. He had opinions. As far as I could see, rather valid opinions at that. Probably it is one of these cases of pure irony (the kind of irony that overdoses if you take it in uncut): his talent really was to work in a corporate environment. His originality really lay in analyzing data in a highly specialized field and crunch numbers in the context of the master plan. In any case: whatever. He was doomed because he was totally incapable of politically correct behavior. In fact he was incapable of any politics whatsoever. He couldn’t but wind up annoying the hell out of everybody.

Maybe you’re feeling some sympathy for ‘poor little Alex’. Probably because, in the context of the preceding, you believe he is the example of the person that does not get promoted, that winds up earning a mere pittance – and dies miserably, knowing the best part of his life was his childhood. You’re wrong. Wrong again. Alex got a promotion. Getting promoted is, after all, not that big a deal. Everybody starts as a junior. It just takes a couple of years and a manager emotionally unable to deliver a bit of negative feedback to turn anyone into a senior. That´s just survival[7].

But what is true is that it took Alex untypically long to get promoted. By the time he got promoted he was already fully socially isolated. At work, at home and from parents that looked at him as if they were happier not to be confronted with yet another one of their failed projects. Alex continued to take it seriously; not to get why people avoided him; why nobody could see what he saw in the data.

He committed suicide finally. I think. Maybe he just died of cancer. Or boredom or something. It’s a sad story really. But luckily for us perfect illustration of the fact that you need to be picked out at least once for a promotion. Inertia is not enough. As will be clear from the next prerequisite we will be dealing with …

Go to Chapter 2 here.

Back to Table of Contents.


[1] Where it was explained to you how your corporation had to transform in order to be relevant for surfing a new wave of consumers.

[2] It is one of the perks of writing semi-fictional prose to get to invent all kinds of characters that are utter caricatures whilst still being rather like one’s self, i.e. rather likeable.

[3] This use of ‘side’ is one of the many ways we non-native English speakers will take our revenge on Anglo-Saxon dominance, specifically as concerns the matter of managerial argumentation.

[4] Meaning Alexander, and his tone became loftier as he thought the thought he associated to the name of Alex. I tell you lest it wasn’t yet clear enough like this: you don’t need to have kids to see it’s unhealthy for parents to think of the kids as their unique mission in life; very unhealthy indeed.

[5] Just don’t get me started on Udo’s!

[6] Even when it is unlikely to be used. And most of the time it is highly unlikely to be used. Maybe it gets to be projected, that is a definite maybe. But even then nobody pays any attention at all. What is really important is not the subject of the meeting but the object of ambition.

[7] Don’t go all ashamed about the arrogance of this towards those not lucky enough to get any promotion. Either they’re lucky enough not to bother with this kind of an analysis. Or they’re much too arrogant to read anything that has something to do with the everyday life of working (wo)men.

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