What you learn, think, feel and value shifts with your experiences and the information and intelligence you gather over the years. Some of it is work, some of it is life, and the blend of those things is what gives you a place to stand in your current world.
Want an interesting exercise? Sit down and think of some of the things you used to believe, but that you don’t anymore. Then consider what happened to change your mind. I was recently giving this some thought as it related to things I’ve learned and felt throughout my career, so I scribbled a few down. I’d love for you to write a post and share yours. It’s really amazing to think about the convictions we keep, and the ones that change along with us.
So here goes.
1. Working all hours is a sign of dedication and follow through.
This one is a lot more visible on the internet, too, and thick in the world of entrepreneurship. You hear people talking about their endless 80-hour weeks, lack of weekends, projects that carry over until all hours of the morning, all the time. Startup life is no doubt demanding and difficult, as is the life of a working parent (or a nonworking parent) and the people who have demanding jobs. I’ve done all of those things – except the non-working parent part – so I can absolutely say I’ve worked the 14 hour day on a deadline, or answered an unreasonable request on a Sunday because my boss or I didn’t plan well. Some of that stuff you simply can’t avoid.
But the pattern? No. We are not superheroes, superhuman, or super stupid. I used to think that if my boss saw me in the office until 8pm, he would know just how dedicated I was. You know what it actually showed him? That work was my priority, so he should keep giving me more of it. That I would always be the one to meet the outrageous expectation, so he’d keep sending those requests to me, knowing that I’d make it happen (this is usually called the competence curse, though I think it’s more accurately dubbed the willingness curse).
I’m not saving lives here, working in the trauma unit of a major hospital. Working myself to exhaustion doesn’t make me valiant, it makes me stupid, and it means my priorities are way the hell out of whack. I’m a consultant. Which means that if I don’t set boundaries for myself, it becomes clear that I won’t set them for anyone else either, whether they be clients or partners or friends. That’s not the standard I want to set. If Sheryl Sandberg can go home at 5:30, I can manage my time, prioritize, and readjust when the extraordinary expectations become the rule rather than the exception.
2. All communication worth starting is worth finishing.
Ever start a discussion and realize it’s getting you nowhere?
I used to think that if something was worth bringing up – in a meeting, in a conversation – it was worth seeing through to the bitter, bitter end. To what point, I’m not actually sure. In the last year, I’ve learned that sometimes, a discussion isn’t worth carrying on. Maybe it’s a stalemate, maybe you change your mind halfway through, maybe the discussion itself ends up creating more problems or confusion than it solves.
I wish I could tell you the magic formula for knowing which is which, but I can’t. Just know that not every discussion is worth having, or even starting. Sometimes you just have to shut your mouth, walk away, be willing to bow out of the discussion (no matter whether you feel you’re “right”) and move on.
3. Hard work trumps everything.
When it comes to things like continuously railing on whether or not someone calls themselves an “expert” or a “guru”, I have zero patience for that conversation. People have been self-labeling as all sorts of things from psychics to magicians to the purveyors of amazing hair tonics since the dawn of business. I don’t care what they call themselves, someday they’re going to have to prove the value to someone who pays them money. If they don’t get paid money, they’ll move on to the next thing. So I won’t waste my energy there.
But let’s presume you’re reasonably good at what you do, and you’re devoted to it. You work your tail off, figuring that eventually, someone will notice and give you the credit, authority, and recognition you deserve.
Reality check: no. As cynical as it sounds, hard work isn’t enough. Hard work is essential, but if you don’t learn at least a little bit to establish the value of your own work in other people’s eyes, no one is going to spend the time to find it out for themselves. Business is not a democracy nor is it always altruistic so learning to play the game and advocate for yourself is part of being a professional.
The line between savvy and jackwad is indeed a fine one, but if you hope to grow your platform and your career, you have to find where yours is.
4. Bad management is solely the responsibility of the bad manager.
When I was younger, it was easy to blame “bad management” for everything from broken process to office culture to unrealistic expectations of deadlines and deliverables. I also spent many years in management, and it’s still easy to point the finger elsewhere when the organization isn’t performing the way you’d like it to.
The truth is that good management is as much supported from the ground up as it is developed from the top down. Our example in #1 about time management? If your manager’s deadline expectations are consistently unreasonable or if you don’t have the tools and resources to do the job, it’s partially your responsibility to manage up by initiating a conversation about the problem and then – here’s the important part – coming prepared with some proposed solutions of your own.
Yes, there are such things as terrible managers and yes, it’s the responsibility of leadership to guide them and hold them accountable. But managers can’t succeed without the support of their teams, either. Culture is as much formed and realized in the ranks of an organization as it is in the executive boardroom. If your default is to say you have an awful management team when something goes sideways, a long hard look in the mirror can give you some perspective and accounability. It did me.
5. Being aggressive is the way to show your strength.
Aggressiveness is a popular shield against insecurity, and bravado is a poor man’s facade of power.
We all have things that intimidate us (and those who say they fear nothing are liars). I once wore my aggressiveness like armor, making sure I got people’s attention by making a show of my strength and fearlessness, and making up for my own discomfort or frustration by ensuring that my voice was heard, and that people knew I meant business.
Truth? Sometimes you’re being strong. Sometimes you’re being an ass. Doing the latter doesn’t earn you respect, it makes people question your temperance and your ability to keep a cool head in complex situations, or to deal with a business situation maturely and dispassionately. You don’t want to be the volatile person by making everything a confrontation.
A display of strength can have a great impact in the right moment, but make it your everyday M.O. and not only does it lose its oomph, it makes you into the person that no one wants to work or deal with.
6. I need to be the nice guy.
By contrast, being a milquetoast doesn’t work either.
I learned my lesson about the “everything is a confrontation” thing, and I continue to work on that throughout my career. But I had to learn another truth about myself that wasn’t easy to swallow all the time: I’m not “nice”.
That’s not to say I’m not kind, or friendly, or that I can’t be compassionate or gentle. My closest friends know I can be those things even to a fault. But in general, I’m not cuddly. It takes me while to warm up to people, and I have a really hard time masking my emotions when something doesn’t sit right with me. That was a torturous thing over the years, thinking that there was something wrong with me because I’m pretty introverted, and because I keep most people at arm’s length.
I have opinions and sometimes they’re passionate ones. I’m not afraid to say no, to have high standards for the people I work with, or to stand up for what I think. I can be tenacious and even stubborn. I’m not the one that’s going to join the office book club or remember to send everyone flowers on their birthday.
Do those things make me a bad person? I used to wonder. Now, as I creep into a fourth life decade, I don’t think so anymore. I’m getting comfortable in my skin.
I will make mistakes, I will hurt people’s feelings, and for those things I will always find value in reflection and yes, even being okay with evaluating what I should have done instead if I had it to do over again. I’ll own what I do and when those things negatively impact other people. But I’m less and less inclined for apologizing for who I am.
Oddly enough, the more you settle into who you are instead of who you think you’re supposed to be, the more the rest starts to make sense.
Reflecting on what you do, who you are and what you believe is a good thing. I believe that.
I also believe that while your precious time shouldn’t be spent lamenting things you can’t change, you can and should use your experiences and evolving perspective to use understanding as a path to improvement, learning, understanding…or simply peace.
Tell me what you once believed that you think differently about today. It’s fascinating if not always easy, and I appreciate in advance your openness to sharing it with all of us.
Looking forward to hearing from you.