Abigail and Alison stood on the terrace of the nicest country club in town toasting each other on the last five years and how far they had come in their careers. They had met when they were both recent college graduates and joined the same company in virtually the same position at the same time. They were very different, though, and it went beyond Abigail’s auburn hair and torn jeans style versus Alison’s red hair and designer dresses. The two had very different attitudes when they started their careers and while one was rewarded, the other struggled. This is their story.
Alison was from an upper middle class family and wanted for nothing growing up. She wasn’t spoiled, per se, but was raised to expect certain things. If she dropped laundry on the floor, someone else was sure to pick it up; if she struggled with a class in school, there was always money for a private tutor. Lavish vacations were common and the cookie jar in the kitchen was always full of Oreos.
When it came time to choose a college, she got into the well-known school where her parents met, graduated and donated annually and student loans were not needed. She graduated, began her job search and was a bit insulted at the reception the real world gave her. She thought her degree would produce lucrative offers but everywhere she applied, they insisted she start at the bottom. Suddenly, it seemed, Alison would be the one picking up the dirty laundry.
When she joined the company, she had a bit of a chip on her shoulder and scoffed at taking orders from the older types, some of whom didn’t even have degrees. It was a difficult adjustment to say the least.
The month Alison started, she noticed Abigail in the next cubicle. She, too, was a college grad but from a less impressive school. She was often the first to arrive and last to leave and never, ever complained. She was genuinely grateful to have such a low-level position and seemed to seek out criticism of her work from those veteran employees who made Alison bristle.
What Alison didn’t know was Abigail grew up in a poorer neighborhood with parents who were rich in love but not much else. There were no Disney vacations or maids to do the laundry, and if the cookie jar had anything inside, it was those generic brand snacks that never tasted quite as good. Like a mountain climber with no rope or spikes, Abigail kept looking up with no option or inclination to ever go back down.
A year after they both arrived at the company, it was time for performance reviews and while Alison got a “satisfactory” evaluation, which offered a small bump in pay, Abigail received an “exceeds expectations,” which came with a bigger raise and promotion.
After a month of watching her sulk, Abigail finally approached Alison, who was sitting alone in the cafeteria. She offered the brooding redhead half of her tuna sandwich. Alison said, “I don’t know how you do it. Bouncing in here so happy every day when we are insignificant little bottom feeders in this company’s eyes.” Abigail told her she was the first person in her family to graduate college, so doing well in this job was important to her. She explained what her grandmother always said—that life was a series of ladders and they were in this together climbing up from the bottom. And she told her that many of the workers who had been there a long time were vaults of knowledge, eager to help anyone who simply asked. Then she told Alison she was pretty and smart and the only thing holder her back was the face staring back in the mirror.
From that day forward, they ate lunch together and Alison worked every bit as hard as her new friend. By year three, they were both halfway up that ladder and now, on their five-year work anniversary at this fancy company outing, they were each toasting big promotions. Two girls from the opposite side of the tracks who ended up on the same train.
The destination was unknown but the horizon, much like their potential, was limitless.
June is a month for graduations and new beginnings. My best advice to any new grads out there is that playtime is over. No one owes you a thing and lots of people have degrees, so how are you going to separate yourself from the pack? If you truly want to succeed, stay late, ask for extra work, respect the old timers, avoid gossip and leave your ego at home. Climb like there are no safety ropes and applaud when others succeed; don’t envy, but learn from them. Oh, and be kind. Those nickels you spend on acts of kindness often come back dressed like dimes.