“You are replaceable”

Nov 28, 2023, Written by Chad Schoonmaker

you are replaceable at work

We were sitting in a boardroom at an oversized conference table with the entire marketing department in the room. It was a weekly marketing meeting.

When I heard those words from the big boss, my defenses went up. Maybe my enneagram 4 kicked into high gear or maybe I was just offended, but to be told, “I could replace you and nothing would change,” stung. 

But he was right. 

I was replaceable. I hadn’t done anything in that position that wasn’t the status quo. Other than showing up early, I hadn’t proven my value to the company or my desire to see the company succeed. I was easily replaceable because I hadn’t left an indent on the brand or the company culture.  

My rationale at that moment was, “I’m not getting paid extra to do that, why should I?” and, “I’m staying in my lane and my lane only.” Granted, that works for some places of business and for some personalities. But those personalities are replaceable. 

I wish I could say that after that conversation, I instantly kicked it into gear. I did not. After some time passed, my perspective changed on what was said. I didn’t make a conscious decision to do things differently, but I noticed small things I started doing that gradually became larger, irreplaceable tasks that only I could do or was doing at all.

Thinking back on the early days in my career, I feel a sense of gratitude for how much I’ve learned, the relationships I made, and the successes I’ve been a part of.

Here are 12 pieces of career advice that I wish I would have heard sooner that would have helped me leave a lasting impression on day one on the job and have made me irreplaceable. 

What Career Advice Do I wish I would have heard sooner? 

1. Set Clear Goals

Define what you want to achieve in your role (no matter the position or how small your paycheck is) and create both short-term and long-term goals. Write them down. Post them in your office space. This clarity can guide your efforts and provide a sense of purpose for your day to day.

2. Continuous Learning

Stay curious and keep learning. Acquire new skills relevant to your job, industry, or personal interests. This not only enhances your performance but also opens up opportunities for growth. Inform your boss about online trainings or conferences you’d like to attend. Even if the answer is no, you communicated the message that you care about your job and you’re eager to learn more and perform better. 

You would be surprised at how talented your coworkers are. Ask them questions about their expertise or why they do things the way they do them. 

3. Build Relationships

Foster positive relationships with colleagues, managers, clients, and other professionals in your field. Networking can provide support, insights, a sense of companionship, and career advancements. Also a smile or warm gesture goes a long way. Don’t avoid small talk. This is where the foundations for lasting relationships are built. 

4. Seek Feedback

Regularly ask for feedback on your work. Constructive criticism helps you improve and shows your commitment to growth. Let this be your first short term goal to weekly email your supervisor for feedback on your performance. 

5. Take Initiative

Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Volunteer for new projects, propose ideas, or suggest improvements. Being proactive can demonstrate your value to the company. I used to take notes in meetings and send them to the people who attended. No one asked me to do it but seeing items discussed and to-dos for each individual kept projects moving forward. 

6. Time Management

Efficiently manage your time to balance tasks and responsibilities. Prioritize work based on deadlines and consider others team members deliverables. Simply ask team members questions. So many projects go over budget, financially and time, because people don’t ask questions. 

7. Maintain Work-Life Balance

Ensure you have time for activities outside of work that recharge you. Setting boundaries between work and personal life is crucial for mental well-being. I like to cook, I’m an artist, I enjoy time with friends and family. Time away from the emails, deadlines, and screens feed your soul and protect you from burn out.    

8. Celebrate Achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate both small and big accomplishments. It boosts morale and motivates you to keep striving for excellence.

Another short term goal; celebrate achievements of other team members. 

9. Stay Positive and Flexible

Challenges are part of any job, get used to it. Maintain a positive attitude and be adaptable when facing obstacles. Embracing change can lead to growth and new opportunities.

Last year our team at Crossroads read “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. Here’s a short excerpt from the book: 

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in the situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled 

10. Reflect and Adapt

Your career and job performance is not a rotisserie oven – You can’t just “set it and forget it!”

Regularly reflect on your progress, what’s working, and what could be improved. Adapt your strategies accordingly to stay effective and engaged. 

11. Take Care of Yourself

Physical and mental health are essential. Regular exercise, healthy eating, drinking plenty of water, and stress management techniques contribute to your overall well-being, enabling you to perform better at work.

Also, don’t smoke or vape. Bring vitamins and supplements to your office and keep them at your desk in case you forget to take them in the mornings. 

12. Contribute to a Positive Culture

Be a team player and contribute to a positive work environment. Encourage collaboration, support your colleagues, and participate in initiatives that promote a healthy workplace culture. We can all agree that some corporate planned events can be cheesy. Set aside your ego and just go with it.  

Hearing my boss’ honest feedback that day was the best thing I could have been told. A decade later and I know, no matter what job I have or interactions I make, there will be a void left if I were to move from it.

I hope you consider applying these suggestions to your day to day and feel more empowered. Make yourself irreplaceable. 

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Chad Schoonmaker

As the Creative Director, my main objective is to make sure the client’s message is being communicated as effectively and consistently on all platforms as possible. I have worked in many industries; construction to radio, nonprofits to car sales, music and audio to the service industry.

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