Workplace: Getting By versus Getting Ahead

“Getting by versus getting ahead” is someone else’s phrase. As year-end reflections and reviews come to the fore, this is a helpful question to ask ourselves: are we getting by or getting ahead?

“Getting by” brings to mind things like: living paycheck to paycheck; struggling but alive; healthy although perhaps not happy; and working with least-possible effort. A Merriam-Webster dictionary says: “Get by: 1: to succeed with the least possible effort or accomplishment 2: to make ends meet (survive) 3: to proceed without being discovered, criticized, or punished.”

The third definition I had forgotten about. Getting by without notice, criticism, or punishment is sometimes the best we can hope for in a Dilbert (the cartoon strip) style workplace. “Getting by” seems like a living in a place of disengagement and dejection; a state of mind that is lacking hopefulness.

On the other hand, getting ahead can take on both positive and negative meanings. Getting ahead can be a negative when it comes at the expense of others. Getting ahead can also be healthy when the focus is on self-improvement and the improvement of one’s work and life situations. Here’s the Merriam-Webster language for Getting Ahead: “to achieve success, as in ‘determined to get ahead in life’.”

Definitions of success are different for everyone. So, working with your own definition of success, what does getting ahead – making progress – or achieving success look and sound like? Getting ahead suggests a moving forward that puts us in a better place that we were yesterday, or the day before yesterday. Getting ahead also sounds like no longer be in debt; no longer feeling stuck in a rut; and making progress toward a goal or even achieving more than an original goal. When we are getting ahead, it implies that we are also happy.

Being happy versus being content came up in a recent conversation. Contentment may be a form of getting by; of being okay-enough; of settling in and believing that things are as good as they can be. Contentment may also take on the form of thriving; of being at peace with the world and the things happening within it to the extent that we are not rattled by it. Contentment seems to be a deep feeling in which a person lives. Happiness on the other hand may be a fleeting set of moments or hours during any given day or week. Happiness may match up to moments in which we feel that we are getting ahead. However, in its fleeting state, happiness may also be the feeling we need in the midst of getting by – the feeling we need to keep afloat and build hopefulness for times we can get ahead.

Are you getting by? Or Getting ahead? What is your focus for 2020?

Workplace: Managing the moments of our day-to-day business lives takes work. Together, let’s explore what issues and activities affect us every day (or some days) that we go to work. – Jana

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