2020: We Should Have Seen It Coming


Note to Readers: This is one of a series of posts that offers career advice for entertainment purposes only. Please don’t take this post seriously or literally. Take only as prescribed. Your results may vary.

The Lunar New Year begins February 12. In the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be the Year of the Ox. I’ve written about the Chinese Zodiac for several years and related it to career advice. The year of the Monkey. The Year of the Dog. The Year of the Red Fire Chicken.

But I skipped last year. 2020 was the Year of the Rat. I thought I had nothing good to say about how you should be more rat-like, so I just didn’t write anything. Thought no one – least of all the lowly Rat – would notice. You can see how that went. The sneaky, pestilence-carrying creature showed up anyway and ruined everybody’s year.

The legend of the Chinese Zodiac says that there was a race held by a great deity to determine which creatures, in which order, would be the namesakes of the twelve-year cycle. The race was run and swum, the finishing line being across a great river. The Rat and the Ox crossed easily, the Ox  being large, powerful, and adept both on land and in water. The Rat asked the good-natured Ox for a ride on its back, but then ungratefully jumped off at the last minute to cross the finish line first.

Another legend says that both the Rat and the Cat were finalists, but the Rat knew he’d never win against the beautiful and graceful Cat. So the Rat let the Cat sleep too late to show up (thus earning a place in the Zodiac and the hatred of cats for all history.)

Yep. Sounds about right. Probably the origin of the sage advice “You snooze, you lose.”

Since 2021 is the Year of the Ox, let’s take a look at what the Ox has to offer. People born in the Year of the Ox have the qualities you’d expect: they’re strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, inspiring confidence in others. They are also calm, patient, methodical and can be trusted.

If you’re an Ox in your career, you’re a plugger. It may not sound (or feel) glamorous, but rest assured that the many people who count on you are very glad you’re there. Seth Godin has a theory of team contributions. One level is simply called the Contributor. Here’s how Godin describes them: “Showing up and doing what you’re asked to do, keeping promises made on your behalf.”

Everybody starts out as a contributor. Watching, learning, filling in the gaps where the team needs a steady and reliable volunteer. You gain experience, both through your successes and your mistakes, and you learn how valuable – and rare – reliability is.

In other words, you’re a great follower. Michael Hyatt writes that great leaders have almost always started as followers, and great followers share characteristics. First and foremost, they are clear on their role. He writes, “everyone has a boss—including you. Great followers not only accept this fact, they embrace it.”

As I write this, we’ve just finished football playoff season. (Turns out it was the Year of the G.O.A.T.) The quarterbacks and receivers get much of the glory and the credit for winning, but it’s the pluggers in the offensive and defensive lines that make the brilliant throws, routes, and catches possible. They do the heavy lifting, both metaphorically and literally.

Never underestimate the contributions of the reliable and competent contributor. We saw how valuable they were in 2020; we finally recognized delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, manufacturing workers, bus drivers, and thousands of others on the front line for the heroes they are. Without them, many of us wouldn’t have made it through the Year of the Rat.

Oxen of the world, we salute you.

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