Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Privilege, Nepotism, and Luck

As we come to the end of 2021, I've been giving a good bit of thought to my career development and how I started out.  Part of this is my pondering where I want to go next, and part is the byproduct of a conversation I had with someone I worked with more than twenty years ago.

A couple of fun facts about me which people probably don't know:

  • I got my first job in high school doing bookkeeping for a business owned by my grandfather and uncle.
  • I got my first "real job" in IT while in college because I happened to be dating the boss's daughter.
  • I got my second real job because my father worked at the company in another department.
Now, none of this is to suggest I didn't do good work at any of the companies.  Looking back I think I did "better than average" for my age and level of experience at the time.  I worked long hours and made a considerable effort to prove my worth and exceed expectations.  And the reputation I established and the relationships I formed set me up for future jobs.

But none of this changes the fact that my first three jobs were acquired as a result of nepotism.  I likely wouldn't have gotten through the door at any of them without the personal relationship.  It's also fair to suggest that in my early years of employment I was a much more awkward and prickly person on an interpersonal level, and the personal relationships I had at those jobs might have spared me from some difficult conversations that my managers might have had with me otherwise.

It's all too common that successful people talk about how much they were able to achieve through hard work and determination.  It's also all too common that they neglect to mention other factors that they can't really take credit for.  Sure, I worked hard and was determined, but I was also lucky, had people who helped me, and always had a safety net in a supportive family (e.g. I could take risks knowing that if all else failed then I could always move back home with my father and live rent-free for a few months to get back on my feet).

It also didn't hurt being a white, straight, cisgender male.