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The second woman, Goldman trader Allison Gamba, says she quintupled earnings for her stock portfolio, winning a nod from her boss that she’d be put up for managing director. He also told her that she should adopt a child instead of getting pregnant. She mentioned this to a higher-up and didn’t get the promotion, which went to a man. Like Chen-Oster, she’d resisted making a fuss. “I had my head on straight. I did everything right, I jumped through every hoop,” Gamba says. “I did everything that should have gotten me the title that I wanted. And I didn’t get it.” (Goldman’s Palumbo calls the De Luis and Gamba allegations baseless.) Bloomberg Businessweek, May 7, 2018, Women vs Wall Street. Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Unsplash

I got out of the US Air Force after 20 years in large part because I didn’t get the next promotion that would have allowed me to continue. The USAF has an ”up or out” policy and I was out. While I was a bit disappointed, I was satisfied with my 20 year career and in addition I had earned a pension. During my time in the Air Force if one did not stay in for 20 years, one did not qualify for a pension. I had never planned to make the USAF a career. I entered the Air Force after high school because I did not see another way to pay for the college education I wanted. I had planned to put in my minimum commitment of four years and then get out with my Air Force training and the GI Bill to help me get through college.

The Air Force, however, trained me as an intelligence analyst and sent me to the National Security Agency. I was in heaven, surrounded by the latest and greatest in computers and technology. I lived on the job (and in the barracks behind the NSA) and was rewarded for my efforts by being given an ROTC scholarship to go finish the college work I was also pursuing at night and then to return as an officer. Even then as an officer, I had no intention of making the Air Force a career. Again, however, they kept giving me great jobs in great locations and I just went, always expecting that my next assignment would be my last.

Yet during this same time and even while being rewarded, I was outwardly skeptical of all the politics and the clear inefficiencies, often due to politics or just inertia, that existed in the Air Force. I realized that I accomplished a lot more than others had been able to accomplish because I ignored all the silliness and just focused on the job that needed doing. Often I decided what needed doing because what had been done forever in the past just seemed ineffective or had never been truly successful, though it was often touted as otherwise. I took a lot of heat for taking this approach and I was often quietly and pointedly reminded that if I wanted to get promoted I needed to take a more politically sensitive approach and to do the job I was given. This was humorous to me because I didn’t see the Air Force as a career, and while I loved the job and the higher calling that it entailed (for me), I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what I saw as the right thing to do as an Air Force officer.

It did finally occur to me one day that I was more than halfway to a 20 year pension and that I might actually have to finally “join the Air Force” if I wanted to get that last promotion I needed to make it to 20. So I became a little bit more circumspect and went out of my way to be a bit more of a “company man” doing more of those things expected of a career officer (i.e., being more politically correct and less doing the obvious right things). I got that promotion I needed and I was even thinking that I might sneak in and get the next promotion after that (somebody had to be last on the list I recall thinking). I didn’t but, after only a momentary disappointment, I was excited about finally seeing what the commercial world was all about from inside commercial organizations.

I did, unexpectedly, become sensitive to some dynamics I had not noticed before the disappointment I experienced of not getting promoted. One was other officers who didn’t get promoted who then broke down and cried or were otherwise quietly devastated and confused. They were confused because they had already gotten as far as they had (i.e., rewarded and promoted) but suddenly, even after seemingly doing everything right, were told they were no longer needed. Later I would often meet higher ranking officers who were also retired and who after a few moments discussion would often show visible pain at having retired. Why? Because even though they had reached a higher rank than I had, they too had been finally told they were no longer needed and had to retire.

What I finally recognized as a big difference between them and I was that I didn’t play the promotion game while they had often gone all in and sold their soul, so to speak, to the system to get those promotions. I was just happy to have gotten as far as I had. They often saw forced retirement as a personal failure and sometimes as a betrayal by the system after doing everything right. They had jumped through all the hoops and had done everything right and that should have gotten them that next promotion. I, conversely, could look back and see everything I had accomplished and was quite satisfied that I was able to do as much as I did before the USAF threw me out.

Are you compromising your future satisfaction by focusing on “jumping through every hoop” for promotions and titles or are you focusing on the hard task of achieving real accomplishments that will transcend any possible future?

Thank you for sharing!