How To Be Successful Without Even Trying (Well, Almost)

My mother always said I was a schmuck. “All of the women in our family are,” she says. “We work like animals, and what does it get us? Nothing.”

We call this the “Coopersmith gene,” for my grandmother Muriel, may she rest in peace. Grandma had a heart attack in her early 40’s, shoveling snow off her stoop. She didn’t wait for Grandpa.

I love my grandmother fiercely. She raised six kids. She made a Jewish home and cooked from scratch. The family was poor, “so poor we couldn’t afford the ‘o’ and the ‘r,’ my aunt Sari says. But Grandma made sure they never knew it.

She ran a real estate business with my Grandpa, after the mattress factory burnt down. A beautiful woman, it was dangerous for her to show properties to strange men, but she handled it.

I can’t remember the whole story she told me once. But it ended with the words, “and when that guy got fresh I told him, ‘my husband knows where you live.'”

Grandma was in love with my Grandpa. She had no intention of getting any divorce. But she worked her ass off anyway. She said, “Dossy baby,” (my nickname), “you’ve got to put up a shingle. Don’t depend on a man.”

By that she meant “have your own business.” And as soon as I was old enough, I did exactly what she said.

But there were some things Grandma didn’t know. One of them, an important one, is that success at work is not necessarily correlated with how hard you work there.

Rather, it has to do with something else entirely: how calm you make people feel.

If you think about the case of Friends, this point becomes pretty simple. You wouldn’t want Monica or Ross in charge. Even though he’s dumb as a doornail, you’d rather take Joey. Or probably Chandler, who knows when to quit.

The reason for this is intuitive, but I’m not sure I ever put it into words: The workplace is normally fraught with tension.

People want leaders who know how to take things in stride. Who are composed, and smooth, and look happy. It is impossible to work yourself into a frazzled pulp and portray this kind of image. You have to actually be relaxed.

If you want to get ahead at work, try doing a little less.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by me.

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Tracy L. McCabe

I think my Irish Catholic family has it’s own Coopersmith gene going on. Thanks for the provocative and fun post. I wish I’d known your Grandma!