When I traveled to Cuba five years ago, I was struck by the warmth of the people, the pristine beaches and the barely-standing buildings in which people lived. The old and the new standing side by side, propping the other up, waiting with bated breath for a change that was surely to come and is coming. The images are seared in my consciousness. I also remember being struck by the fact that there are (were) two currencies: the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and the Peso. The CUC is for the tourists and the (lowly, devalued) Peso is for the people. My five CUCs for a contraband artwork could help sustain a psychologist for several weeks in Havana. My tourist currency made me a desirable person to meet. Of course, I am quite charming so CUCs aside I was still an interesting tourist. I jest for levity.
This Cuban two-currency system made me feel quite weird while there and that feeling stuck with me. These past few weeks while we experience the US presidential election, the Cuban currencies have popped back in my consciousness. Specifically, as we ponder Trump’s Presidential candidacy, I got to thinking about how one can leverage one’s own currency.
One such major currency is that of fame and Trump is not only cashing in on it but he is riding high off of it. Trump is not an anomaly. We live in a world where Warhol’s exhortation regarding everybody’s inevitable 15 minutes of fame is a driving life goal for a whole generation. Why else would the MTV television show 16 and Pregnant resonate the way it did? Why else would we ever care about a vapid, selfie-obsessed Kardashian? Yes, fame is a major currency that begets itself. In the workplace, just like in Cuba (and Hollywood for that matter), there are two currencies.
In the workplace, in order to rise, workers tend to leverage two currencies: fame and sweat. Irene Cara had it right back in the ’80s. We are set on making it to heaven by lighting up the sky like a flame based on our fame.
We have all worked in offices where you wondered quietly, perhaps out loud at times, how did Joe Schmo get so high up? Fame. Yes, remember its name. There are those that are popular either due to outgoing personality, being fake or sometimes (rarely) being a genius. These famed workers get promotions up the ladder and seem unstoppable. Their “fame” gets them lunch, golfing or drinks with the boss. Their fame gets them their name on projects that may not be their strength.
Then you have those whose currency is that of being a workhorse -akin to the Cuban Peso. They work hard day in and day out and put in their best efforts with pride. When the workplace is fair and just, those employees eventually rise up the ladder as well. However, the old adage of 10% of the people do 90% of the work more often that not, holds center court in the workplace.A workhorse is almost universally out-shined by the loud, known employee that seems to know everyone else even when said employee does the bare minimum.
Sadly, fame is the true currency of our day and times. If only we could implement a currency exchange system in the workplace. Exchange our currency or someone else’s for that matter for one that provides one a better exchange rate.