“You’ve Earned It!” read the title of the certificate the American lady handed over to me, congratulating me on the work I’ve done. I shook hands with her and then walked back to the chair where I was seated.

“Did I really earn it?” asked a voice inside my head.

In the fall of 2016, a bunch of people started the groundwork to develop a learning curriculum for technology aspirants. Over the next 6 to 8 months, they’d meet up, deliberate on what the curriculum should be, they configure all the assessments. People join the team, people leave and the work marches on under the stewardship of Mr. A.

All the work culminates in the form of a new learning path for the technology stack Mr. A is an expert in, it’s launched and congratulatory mails are exchanged.

I wasn’t part of that team.

In October 2017, an event is organized by the learning department. They want the experts from all technology stacks to represent the stacks at this event. There’ll be posters displayed summarizing the work done and future course of work for each stack, the experts are supposed to present these posters to the leadership team.

I’m asked to prepare the poster, thanks to my knowledge and proven skills in designing posters.

The poster is ready and Mr. A says “You’ve got to present it to the leadership team. I want you to do it.”

I accept it, it’s an opportunity I shouldn’t miss is all what I know.

A meeting invite in my inbox talks about a lunch party on the day of the presentation. The lunch party has been hosted for the select few who have extensively worked and co-ordinated for a whole year in developing the curriculum for their respective stacks. The organizer mentions that the technology experts heading each stack can bring along any number of people who’ve worked in developing the curriculum.

I ask Mr. A if he’s going to forward the invite to the other folks from my team as well as other teams, folks who’ve actually contributed to this. He refuses. He says he wants me to present.

I tell him I’m okay with presenting, but remind him that he can actually take others to the lunch party.

He refuses to do so.

A fabulous lunch party and a great presentation later, the ceremony on D-Day is in its last leg – Rewards & Recognition. My name’s announced alongside Mr. A’s and we’re handed over the certificates. “You’ve Earned It!” says the title and we’d receive cash prize enough to book a night’s room in a decent hotel or to buy a good botttle of wine. It can actually buy an entry-level smartphone in India.

The corporate world is ruthless in the way it functions. “This is Accenture, if you don’t run fast, you’ll be left behind” the manager in my previous company had told a bunch of interns. That phrase is very much the way corporates work. You ought to run with them if you want to succeed in your career.

But, at what cost? Should it be done at the cost of ethics? What ethics would that be and who’d say what is ethical?

On one side, I do believe that the workplace is full of cut-throat competition and that if I don’t play my cards well I’ll be left behind or worse, crushed by someone else. My ethics don’t allow me to put someone else in a negative shade, but it allows me to grab the opportunities that come to me – even if they’re at the cost of someone else. Which is why I don’t make friends at work, I wouldn’t want to cheat or disappoint or step on a friend to reach greater heights.

Yet, I did what I could. I reminded Mr. A of his duties. His justification that I’m better than the others at communicating made a lot of sense given the fact that the presentation was catering to a select audience of Who’s Who of the firm. There was no two questions that I was the better candidate suited for what needed to be done.

I had earned that reputation, of being a successful communicator, presenter. Of being someone with high confidence levels, someone known for being outspoken and well-behaved. My track record in the firm had earned me this opportunities. I wasn’t stealing it from someone else, I had earned it too.

But still, the guys who spent all that time deserved the lunch party and the certificates.

That, I didn’t earn!