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How to Avoid the Popularity Contest and
Focus on Professional Success

We’ve all been there before. You start a new job, want to make a good impression and quickly get wrapped up in office politics and gossip. I don’t know about you, but as much as I want to be liked at work, it gets exhausting. So in my latest job, I made the conscious effort to just stop trying so hard. What a relief! So what did I learn? When I focus on my job instead of making friends, I’m so much happier.

1. Get Acquainted Naturally

When I started my job in a new city, I hit the ground running. There was plenty for me to learn at the outset, and my primary focus was to take it all in and become proficient. That should be goal #1 for anyone, right?

Of course, when you’re the new girl, it’s also natural to gravitate toward certain people, wanting to join their circle. I’d been disappointed by this in the past, so I willed myself to avoid it. I wasn’t antisocial by any means, I simply didn’t force my way into peoples’ lives. My strategy? Contribute meaningfully. Casual conversations popped up among the team all the time, but it worked so much better for me to chime in when I added value (or occasional humor). My colleagues and I got to know each other in a much more authentic way instead of through the lens of our work personas.

2. Avoid the Drama

Like I said, it’s nice to be liked at work (after, all, think about how much time you spend there), but there are easier ways to do it than embracing icky parts of office culture.

Drama happens at work, but you can’t let it consume you. I was coming from a particularly draining workplace, where office cliques were the norm and no one was happy with management—and we all felt it. I knew this time had to be different. So I steered clear of watercooler gossip (the rumor mill is so draining) and made a point to see the positives to any negatives. I’d think, for instance, Maybe management is being too rigid about some policies, but they were really flexible about Kate’s maternity leave. That mindset shift made such a difference compared to being sucked into nonsense.

3. Do Your Best Each Day

Each of us has a special skill set we bring to the table, and should be proud of that. More importantly, your skills are valuable enough to be important to your employer. A major turning point for me was realizing and enjoying the impact my efforts have.

If you start work each day with your game face on, it shows and you feel it, too. I’ve come to truly appreciate and get excited by the fact that my work directly affects client success. This alone energizes my daily efforts. What’s more, if you do this, that focus and passion shows through to those around you. When I have a major project to tackle, my colleagues see my meticulous attention to detail and desire to do things right the first time. That might show through by putting in some earbuds to get my head in the zone, or by taking the extra ten minutes to make something better. And you know what? People genuinely appreciate and like me for my skills, far outweighing any perceived notion of popularity.

Be Yourself and Let the Chips Fall Where They May

Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone be antisocial or avoidant at work, turning away from the computer only at lunchtime. But it’s so important to find the right balance at work between being well-liked and thriving professionally. My advice? You can achieve career success and financial independence by being yourself and doing what you do best at work. Let the rest fall away. You’ve got this.


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