When Your Asshole Coworker Hogs All The Credit: A Metaphor.

Your colleague shuffles up to your desk to ask for help. He’s been working eighteen-hour days to try to hit this massive deadline, but it looks like even with all that herculean effort he’s not gonna finish his project in time.

You’ve been friendly before. So he asks a big favor: would you mind taking on some of his everyday tasks so he can focus on getting this special project done?

You’re no fool, of course. You ask your boss if it’s okay, and your boss has a bit of a crush on Colleague so they’re inclined to help, and so everyone in the department shuffles around a bit to take the slack off of Colleague so he can get it done.

And Colleague knocks it out of the park, like you knew he would – the boy’s got talent, you’ll give him that. Their special project exceeds all expectations, wins awards, gets him up on stage at the annual company meeting where he gives a speech.

“I worked hard to make this happen,” he says. “Eighteen-hour days for six months, using all my skills.”

“Did you want to thank anyone?” the President of the company asks.

“No. I did it all myself,” he says.

Needle scratch, freeze frame, full stop as everyone in the department hates this guy. For good reason. I mean, he did work hard, but if your boss hadn’t liked him, he would have blown the deadline. Without everyone in the department quietly pitching in to make things easier for him, he would be just another failure.

Why’s this asshole talking like he’s a self-made man?

Would it kill this jerk to acknowledge the special treatment that helped enable his hard work?

And that’s privilege to me.

People get enraged when I mention the advantages my gender, race, and health gave me in the same breath as my triumphs. You finally published a book after writing seven unpublished novels? Take this moment to bask in your tenacity! You’ve been working out with your personal trainer three times a week for the past nine months? Don’t mention how other people can’t afford a personal trainer, or are too sick to work with one, that’s raining on your parade!

Look. I work hard for everything I get. There’s plenty of people who have all the privileges I do and haven’t published a book; there’s plenty of people who have the cash I do and haven’t hauled their ass to the gym. Like Colleague, I’ve got a lot of talent and I am not ashamed to show it.

Yet sometimes, because of stuff I had no control over, the company cuts me slack that it doesn’t cut other coworkers. I am excruciatingly aware that some of my less-crushable coworkers also worked eighteen-hour days but couldn’t get everyone else to pitch in and so they failed.

Hard work doesn’t pay off equally. It’s a necessary ingredient in most cases, to be sure, but to believe that effort and talent are the sole criteria for success involves consciously forgetting that the company likes some people a lot better than they do other people.

(In fact, the company likes some people so much that they sometimes cut Colleague slack before he even asks for it, to the point where if he’s sufficiently oblivious he may genuinely believe that nobody helped him along the way, he is truly a Self-Made Man.)

Whenever I acknowledge my own privilege, I have moof-milkers saying, “Stop hating yourself. Recognize your talent. Why do you feel the urge to undercut yourself in your moment of triumph?”

I’m not undercutting myself. When I stand up to talk at the office meeting, I discuss my own hard work, skill, and expertise that allowed me to triumph – but I also take a moment to acknowledge that even if I didn’t necessarily ask for help, I got it in spades, and to remind y’all that instead of believing I’m the Special Project Messiah maybe you should ponder how much more excellence we might get if the boss had crushes on everyone instead of just me.

I’m not hating myself.  I’m thanking my co-workers for helping, and acknowledging the reality that though I put in a lot of effort, it wasn’t all me.

Because I’m not an asshole.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Jun 6, 2018

    I am coming to suspect that the emotional strength of the moof-milkers’ reaction is rooted in fear. To wit: If your success is not attributable to your own actions, that implies that their success or failure is not attributable to theirs, thus implying an uncomfortable lack of control over their own lives.

    I could be way off, of course, but that’s where my thinking is just now.

    -Alex

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