In high school, I worked at the athletic store at the local mall. Among the various merchandise carried - apparel, accessories, fan gear - the bulk of our selection was undoubtedly athletic footwear. I’ll never forget the time we were redesigning the store layout on an off day and my manager asked for me to grab the pair of “special” Reeboks from the back for the front display. Short on details, I thought to ask for further instructions but wanted to show that I didn’t need to be micromanaged. Furthermore, it had been a long work day already so I got the sense that everyone on the team was looking forward to finishing. So I headed back to the stockroom in search of the requested shoes. But on my way, I kept thinking, How am i supposed to know which Reeboks he means? What makes these shoes special? What if I grab the wrong pair and he fires me on the spot for incompetence!? These were all very legitimate questions in my adolescent brain being that I had the extensive work history up to the point of 2 whole weeks.

Well, I made it to the back room and surveyed the vast and unorganized inventory of tennis shoes. My heart sunk as I saw what appeared to be mounds and mounds of disheveled sneakers. There’s no way I’m going to choose correctly. Feeling like Indiana Jones in search of the Holy Grail, I began looking over the piles of tennis shoes when suddenly something caught my eye. There nestled in the back, near the manager’s desk, was a pristine pair of NBA superstar Allen Iverson’s signature shoe, the Reebok Answer. These had to be it! I scooped up the sneakers and came out to the front with the confidence of an EMS worker that rescued “Baby Jessica” from the well. The manager saw what I was carrying and without too much acknowledgment, muttered a simple “Thanks.” Not exactly the hero’s welcome I was expecting, but I was more caught up in my own process to notice. What made me choose those shoes? Was it the shoe design or the colorways that made them so attention-grabbing? How did I know that’s what my manager wanted?

This story should make us all consider the reality that even in the midst of clutter, there’s a way to cut through the noise. We may find ourselves working in large companies and organizations and it’s easy to feel as though you don’t have the ability to make an impact. Nothing could be further from the truth! With the right mindset and follow-through, you can be the shiny needle in the haystack.

Let it be said that there are a lot of advantages that come along with working in a large company. While they tend to offer better benefits, training and mentoring opportunities as well as greater job stability, it can be hard for the ambitious and enterprising to stand out in a big organization. How do you become a big fish in a big pond?

Initially, it starts with your mentality. You can’t go into it with your focus on getting noticed. It has to be about the work first. Do you believe the work being done is important? If so, then you can bring awareness to the significant impact being made by the work of your team. This delicate balance involving ego and humility might sound counterintuitive. But getting noticed in a big organization has a lot to do with what you’re bothering to notice or focus on during your work.

Also, you have to handle the work in front of you. Whatever it is, nail it. Don’t be obsessed with what you don’t have, but rather steward well that which has been entrusted to you. The greatest testament to your ability and rockstar capability is taking care of the business, no matter how small, that’s been assigned to you. People will notice.

Finally, you have to remember not to get caught in the comparison trap. At any point in time, there will be inequities in an organization. Regardless of the company, you’ll be able to find work being done that isn’t commensurate with people’s position. This is a short-term orientation. Cream rises to the top and trust that good work will get noticed. If you have the humility to focus on what’s best for the organization, team or project first, then a good person will not go unnoticed for long. When you’re adding value to the team, then you’re also adding value to yourself!

In summary, if you focus on the work, keep a proper mentality and avoid the comparison trap, then you’ll be sure to gain recognition even in the largest company. Take these steps and you’ll be the shiniest needle in the haystack or the most stunning pair of Reeboks in a cluttered stockroom!