John was sitting at his desk at work one day, when his boss walked up to him with an ominous-looking black box.

“John,” his boss said, a concerned frown on his face, “I need you to do something very important for me.”

His boss set the box on John’s desk and snapped open the lid to reveal a large button, made of metal and painted red. It was two or three inches in diameter and buffed to an incredible shine.

“I need you to do something very important for me,” John’s boss repeated. “I need you to push this button.”

Let’s pause in my story for a second. What is the thought running through your head right now? If you were John, what would you say?

I think, for most of us, the immediate thought is this: “What happens if I push the button?” For all you know, pushing the button could kill 1,000 kittens. Or it could make candy fall from the ceiling.

You probably have other questions as well. Why can’t your boss push the button? What if you decide not to push the button? Does the button have to be pushed now? Is pushing the button in your best interest? Is pushing the button in the company’s best interest? Could the button be better pushed by someone else in the company?

They’re all valid questions to ask. If you were John, you’d never push the button without asking them, right?


Except you probably do, every day.

Every day, most of us push buttons - that is, complete tasks that are assigned to us - without really understanding the consequences. We rely on others to make the decisions and just do as we’re told. We don’t know why certain choices were made, and we don’t ask. The description of workers as cogs in a corporate machine is used for a reason - we all play our part, but we don’t always ask to see the big picture.

I’m not suggesting that you suddenly start questioning your boss’ every move or refusing to do tasks, but sometimes the smartest career move you can make is to ask what happens if you press the button.

The company where you work - how is it structured?

When you’re finished with your part of a project, who makes use of it and how?

Are there more efficient ways of doing things and if so, why aren’t things done that way?

Ask all these questions and more. Learn about your job and your employer. Understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it - and really examine if this is the best way to do it for both you and for the company. Believe it or not, I wasn’t always a freelancer. I used to work in an office environment, and even as the very lowest rung on the corporate ladder, I spoke up. I asked questions, voiced my opinion, and brainstormed ways to make the office more efficient. And you know what? Just before I left to work for myself, I was asked to apply for a much higher-level job that was coming open. I’m confident that had I not left, I would have been offered the promotion.

Even more importantly, by understanding why I was pushing the buttons, I grew to enjoy my job more. The corporate environment is just not for me, but I didn’t hate going to work every day. I liked knowing that I was making a difference in the overall strength and productivity of the company. It felt good that my boss and co-workers could rely on me and even turn to me for help. I wasn’t just a cog in a machine.

Changing how you approach your tasks can make all the difference when it comes to getting ahead in your career and enjoying the work you do.

So ask yourself this: what buttons am I pushing, no questions asked?

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  1. Judy Helfand (Reply) on Tuesday 5, 2011

    I so enjoy reading your posts. Today I wish I had worked with you. We would have gotten along famously, because I, too, always asked questions. You learn from your questions, as do your co-workers. They come to appreciate your willingness to step up. I would counsel my co-workers: question each request as if your life depended on it. Do not be afraid to stand your ground for the betterment of your work ethic and the company.

    This past Sunday I watched 60 minutes. There was a segment about the mortgage/banking crisis…and I just kept thinking to myself why didn’t any worker ask questions or write an anonymous letter. Button pushers…and now we find ourselves (all of us) touched by the results of greed and schemes.


    • Allison (Reply) on Tuesday 5, 2011

      I feel like sometimes we let things go, don’t ask question, because it’s just too hard, too much trouble for us to bother. But then, aren’t we as guilty? I think so.

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