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This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share how they turned setbacks into success. Read all their stories here.

I like to think that I have been in charge of my own life, that I am in the driving seat rather than in the back seat along for a scenic ride – observing but not participating. But I confess that if it were not for other people’s actions, I would not be doing what I’m doing. I wrote about this particular curveball some months ago in “Can You Fire Your Boss?”

A career can be a series of Sliding Door moments: one door closes, another one opens, and often we are not quite sure which door is next. One thing is for sure there have been plenty of curveballs flung at me. I think my workday is going to go in one direction – and then before I know it I am off in another direction. Ultimately these sliding doors did lead to me start my own business.

In the early 1990s I worked in the aviation industry during the deregulation of the industry in Australia. I was proud and excited to get this job for such a prestigious iconic Australian brand, I called all my friends – there was no Facebook in those days – sharing the great news. I was jump-for-joy happy. It took me four hours to work out what to wear for my first day, wanting to make a good impression.

Yet within six months I lied about where I worked, and before the year was out I knew that this was not a long-term career company for me. It was the curveballs that made me realize this.

My role was as marketing manager for the loyalty club program and I was then asked to join the launch team on the first points-based frequency program to ever exist in Australia. It was a big deal back then; we thought it might even make front-page news. I was putting every ounce of effort I had into doing great work, even though I had to do two jobs at the same time. My workload had more than doubled, my salary stayed the same.

Month after month I toiled endless hours to get the program launched. My immediate colleagues saw my contribution. But my superiors had no idea of the work involved in getting the launch right whilst keeping the marketing effort for my original role in full flight.

After many months waiting to be acknowledged and see my salary reviewed, I finally got up the courage to go upstairs to the general manager’s office:

“I’m enjoying the work, but my role has doubled. I have now been managing the two roles for more than six months. In what time frame would a salary review be undertaken?” I asked.

“Who do you think you are to come into my office and ask for a pay rise?” he retorted. “How do I know what value you add to this business?”

I left his office trying to hold back the tears, feeling not only diminished, but also angry and hurt. I was indignant – How could he not know my contribution?

Was it management’s job to notice what I did? Was it my peers? Or was it mine to speak up and share what I achieved? In hindsight of course it is a mixture of all these things. One thing I knew is I never would allow this to happen again.

Finally, my direct manager negotiated a salary review of my role. The outcome was a $5 per week pay rise. This was as insulting as the lack of recognition for my work. The general manager received my resignation the next day. Door closed!

Within weeks I joined Apple as a marketing manager. Door opened. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I do know is this curveball galvanized what I believe about work places:

I believe that everyone deserves to have a great day at work.
I believe that if people know what they are there to do, if someone notices and they go home feeling like a winner, then they are likely to play full out.
I believe that appreciation is the simplest and most effective way of valuing the contribution made by an individual.
I believe that what gets noticed gets repeated.
And that is why I preach what I practice and work to support other businesses on their ‘best employer’ journeys. It is all about RED (Recognise Every Day) and without the curveball of having a mean, nasty, small-minded general manager as a boss 25 years ago, perhaps I would not have created such a successful business.

Don’t miss more stories coming next week: follow the Career Curveballs channel.

Photo: Rwendland / Wikimedia

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