Alex Weinstein
On Growth, Product, and Leadership
Not Needing the Job Makes You Better At It
running penguins

At a certain point in your career, you stop needing the specific job you’re in. It might be because you’re in high demand and you get job offers frequently. It might be because your savings are sufficient to quell any anxieties about a stint of unemployment. Whatever the reason, a magical transformation happens to you at this point: you become better at your job. You stop caring about pleasing others - most importantly, your boss - and begin acting with true conviction. This is when you become dramatically more valuable to the company because you are focused on driving results, not people-pleasing.

Let’s explore a couple of situations.

1. Your boss prescriptively tells you to do something you know is dumb.

What do you do if you need the job? Oh yes, you do it their way. You resent them quietly.

What do you do if you don’t? You tell them - privately - that there’s a much better way to achieve the desired result, that they may have missed the latest developments in your field, that disempowering employees - even at the small gain of efficiency - is far from a long-term win.

Their reaction? Nine times out of ten, growth of respect for you as the only person that has enough conviction and understanding of their field to teach them something. And as an added bonus, you get to do it the right way - not your boss’s way.

2. Your boss talks down to you, publicly.

What do you do if you need the job? That’s right, you quietly swallow it and never bring this up. If it happens often, you find another job.

And if you don’t need the job? You allow them to calm down and the next day, you tell them that the behavior was completely inappropriate and you’ll quit if it happens again. I assure you: people with temper problems at least suspect they have temper problems; most of them will apologize: “I really crossed the line, I’m sorry.” From this moment on, they’ll see you as the only person in the organization courageous enough to tell them the uncomfortable truth.

3. A colleague makes a hostile remark in a meeting.

Many of us have been in toxic environments, where “brilliant assholes” bully and offend others, with nobody checking their behavior. The reason for it, of course, is that everyone’s too afraid of the consequences for themselves.

In a typical interaction of this sort, somebody from a partner team you’re meant to collaborate with might drop a comment like this in a 10-person meeting: “Well you guys always take forever to get anything done, so we don’t really need to worry about planning our part of the work this quarter.”

tortoise middle finger

Most people would sit in awkward silence following this, or pretend this comment never happened, and then move on. What can you say if you don’t really need the job and are unafraid of a confrontation? “Let me begin by stating that the previous statement was completely inappropriate. At the core, though, it sounds like you’re suggesting that there’s a way to accelerate this - what can you do to help us get there faster?”

See… this lack of fear can help you deal with bullies, too.

“ALL RIGHT, ALEX. I get the point. But what’s behind this, eh, magical power?”

As humans, we are hard-wired to believe that confidence implies competence. Desperately needing your job makes you a people pleaser… and that, of course, is the opposite of confidence. Not needing your job allows you to speak up; to focus on the uncomfortable truth; to push for things the business needs, not on what your colleagues want to hear.

“BUT HOW? How do I get to this magical point? I’m not a trust fund baby! I have a mortgage to pay!”

1. Savings. I’m serious, savings. There’s some amount for everyone that will allow you to not be worried about being fired tomorrow. 6 months of expenses? 12 months? $100k? Whatever that is, work like mad to reach that threshold. Then put those savings into a low-risk portfolio - no, not the stock market… it has to be liquid and stable.

2. Backup plan. Imagine being fired tomorrow. What are you going to do? Is there a buddy that’s been calling you up about joining her startup? A side gig you’re going to double down on to convert to a full-time job? The more vividly you can plan it, the more confidence this will give you. Uncertainty breeds fear.

Related, make sure you’re consistently investing in your network - at the time when you don’t need it. Offer free help and advice. Ask your friends how you can help them. Mentor others. Volunteer. Take calls from recruiters, meet hiring managers for jobs that you have no intention of taking. Expand your reach.

3. Clearly see the “bad” in your job. Yes, I’ve said it. If you clearly see what you hate about your job, then imagining losing it is not as scary. I’ll give you my example: when I took a job at Grubhub, it required moving to Chicago. All my friends and our entire lives were back in Seattle. The “go ahead and fire me, I’ll go back to all my friends and the house I like” framework in my head was so powerful that it alone created this confidence. So yes, move for that next job if you have to.

There, I said it. If you desperately need the job, the job won’t need you as much. To be the best at your job, you can’t need it. Find a way to need it less.