A meme appeared on my Facebook feed with the following text:

Always remember:

  • The squeaky wheel gets outsourced
  • High achievers end up working unpaid overtime
  • No good deed goes unpunished
  • Dare to be adequate!

True? False? There is absolutely some truth to those principles. If you annoy the boss enough, she won't fight to save your job--but it's pretty rare that a company decides to outsource a function based on one annoying employee. There are certainly employees who bust their buns and work all kinds of crazy hours, only to be rewarded with more work, no praise, and no promotion. So, do you want to be "adequate?" Think about these five reasons for choosing that path.

1. You've lowered your risk of being fired/outsourced. It's absolutely true that when you do exactly what the boss asks of you, you don't question anything, and you just keep your head down and do your work, you don't get a target placed on your back. In fact, when someone is in a terrible job situation, I tell them to do just that--do what is necessary, but no more, make no waves, and focus on finding a new job.

The problem: Low risk doesn't mean no risk. When bad times hit, it's the 9-to-5ers who are the first out the door. In some companies, this won't be a problem. In others? Brush up your résumé.

2. Everyone needs B players. Sure, companies want to have people who are climbing the ladder. (And in fact many recruiters look for increasing responsibility on a résumé and will reject people who haven't shown that they've been promoted over the years.) But someone has to do the work. Sometimes it's really awesome for a company to have the same person in a job for 20 years--after all, Jane knows her job really well and you can always count on her to remember the company history.

The problem: No one wants to hire B players. I'm absolutely in favor of people who choose this type of life. There's nothing at all wrong with it. But, as I mentioned, if you do get laid off, or your spouse's job requires relocation, or you just get tired and want a new job, recruiters will question why you haven't moved at all in 20 years (or even five years). You'll find it difficult to move up or even laterally when you've been stuck doing the same thing for so long.

3. You're not a threat to bad managers. Some managers cannot stand it when an employee is too ambitious or too smart. They will do everything in their power to cut down and undermine such employees. By being mediocre, you don't threaten them, and your position with them is secure.

The problem: You're not a help to good managers, either. Smart managers strive to hire people who are smarter than they are. Why? Because awesome employees produce awesome work. If your department churns out awesome work, you look awesome. Great managers are OK with their employees moving on after a couple of years and wouldn't have it any other way. They don't tolerate mediocrity because that isn't what their department is about.

4. No risk of failure. Sure, there's a risk of being fired, but that's not an especially high risk. If, however, you're presenting new ideas and challenging old ones, you could get it wrong. You could fail. Failure is embarrassing. Failure is depressing. Failure just basically stinks. By just being adequate, you're not going to fail and you won't have to face any of that.

The problem: No failure means no success. You'll never find out if the way you're doing a task is the best way. You'll never get that new job because you never applied for it. You'll never get to see if you have the ability to try that higher-level job because you'll never be promoted into it. You're just stuck. Stuck, stuck, stuck. In fact, there are countless lessons you'll never learn because you'll never try.

5. You can focus on your life outside work. This is awesome. If you want to spend more time with your family or on your hobbies, striving for mediocrity at work means you'll have time for that. No late night phone calls, no weekends spent finishing up that project. It's not a bad life.

The problem: You'll never find joy in your work. When you've really accomplished something great, you have a feeling of pride in your success. You can really enjoy your work. If you're not striving, if you're not taking risks, if you're not working towards something new, you'll never get satisfaction with your job. That's fine if you're finding satisfaction elsewhere, but it doesn't have to be an all or nothing.

As you might have guessed, I'm not a fan of mediocrity. If you are, go for it. It makes my climb to success easier if I don't have to compete with you.

Published on: Mar 16, 2015