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.”
“We need someone to be on the escalation line.”
“We need someone to take on this messy and difficult project.”
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.