Getting Ahead: I Volunteer

My grandfather was a Seabee in the Korean War. When I was eleven, we were on a long car trip together wandering dirt roads in farmland Oklahoma. He told me the one rule and phrase that got him where he wanted was, “I Volunteer”.

“Didn’t you get a lot of assignments you didn’t want though?” I asked. He smiled. “Yes, at first. I cleaned a few latrines. But I worked hard and did it well. When my commanding officers saw that I would volunteer and do the work, they started making sure I was in the path of more desirable work. I learned new things, and they paid attention to my interest.”

It seemed like an unreasonable idea to me. My curiosity got the better of me though, so I tried.

“We need someone to work the closing shift.”

I volunteer.

“We need someone to be on the escalation line.”

I volunteer.

“We need someone to take on this messy and difficult project.”

I volunteer.

The opportunities grew my experience quickly. I got to interact with decision makers and players I would have otherwise never met. I made friends, some of them lifelong. I found people who would champion me. “I volunteer” led to my first major promotion.

I cleaned my share of latrines along the way. I got taken advantage of. Other people took credit for my hard work. But on balance, “I volunteer” has paid out. It’s a bet I’ll still take today.

“We have a project that…”

I don’t need to hear the rest.

I volunteer.

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