It “just happened.” All of a sudden, I’m the one inheriting the tasks everyone else is shedding; the work they don’t want to do is ending up on my desk! Why does this always happen to me?!
Sorry to break it to you
It didn’t “just happen.” This was a journey That started a long time ago…and it didn’t happen by accident. As the captain of your ship, you set the course for this destination. It’s the result of who you believe you are and the decisions you made along the way reinforcing your beliefs.
Learning to walk
Remember when you first joined the company? They took a risk on you. You wanted to prove to them that they made the right choice. They won’t regret this!
You start to feel your way around the culture and the team, trying your best to fit in, understand your role and…most importantly, identify the boundaries. It’s not an easy time and it can feel stressful – especially if you are prone to needing acknowledgement for your contributions.
It takes a while to evidence the value that you bring to the team. Sure enough, your contributions start to make a difference. Within a few months, even though you are still learning, your personality begins influencing your engagement.
Shaping your identity
As you know, most of who we are as adults is shaped during the first two to four years of our life. The way you think and perceive the world around you was strongly influenced by what you experienced in those formative years.
As you pick up information in your new role, it influences your response. For example, as you interpret urgent need, the response might be to drop everything you are doing and work on the urgent need.
You also know that what’s urgent is often not important; however, what IS very important to you during these first days of this new role is demonstrating that:
- your boss and peers can count on you;
- the team matters;
- you are willing to pitch in and help out with something you don’t own;
- there’s a degree of competency in you that they didn’t expect;
- most importantly, YOU ROCK (see, now you understand why I told you that you made a great choice hiring me!)
Your credibility grows and it starts to draw a crowd. People like hanging around with positive team members that contribute. Relational equity also starts to increase…helping people out of a tight spot makes a sizable deposit into that account.
A disquieting, and possibly disturbing, trend starts to emerge as month’s turn into years. As you respond to more and more of the urgent items handled by your team on a daily basis, you find your own work getting pushed aside.
Everyone knows that you can’t just stop your daily responsibilities, so naturally this means you work longer and longer hours to get your job done. “Just ask Rachel” your co-workers say. “She can help with that.” or “Randy’s an expert on that process – he won’t mind helping.”
Over a period of time, you find that your life has become a continuous stream of interruptions. You allowed it in the beginning…but like an addict, it has cost you more than you wanted to pay and taken you further down a road you never intended to travel.
For a good time, call…
In your defense, you convince yourself that many of these behaviors are necessary to maintain your sanity. Your reputation is preceding you and even when it’s sounds like someone is complementing you, you don’t feel good about it.
When the suave player in your senior class calls you beautiful, you know all he really wants is to make out on Friday night. There’s nothing insincere about what he said, you are beautiful. What motivated the compliment was more about his needs than yours.
What was meant to help out in a pinch has now become a pattern. The careless moments repeated over and over again resulted in a lifestyle. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that you introduced all kinds of difficulty for yourself:
- That reputation has taken on a life of it’s own at the office – it’s possible your fame has spread all the way to headquarters
- You are always working. Later than everyone else, on the weekends, from home or your son’s football game, always allowing your personal time to be interrupted for an important call.
- You don’t take vacation, you come in sick, you do what no one else seems to…name it and you do it – your a real company man or woman. It’s true, people, and you specifically, are the company’s most valuable asset…until you aren’t.
- You’ve conditioned an expectation from your peers and from your boss; it’s less of a request now and more of a requirement…no longer a question, but a statement: “you’ll have to get this to me before you leave tonight” or at 4:30 PM on Friday you hear “the report has to be be finished before the meeting on Monday morning.”
Not absent-minded, just absent
- Unfortunately, you have a less than stellar reputation at home as well
- Work is more important than family. You’ve made it known how overwhelmed you are and they can’t approach you for fear of adding one more thing to your plate.
- On the rare occasion when you are home, you are spent. There’s no energy to invest in activities with those you say you want to be with; a date with Big Bang Theory reruns is more on par with the effort you think you can reasonably exert.
- Your household believes you’d rather pour over email with your mobile device than listen to anything they have to say about their day, their date, their game, their achievements or failures. If you are interested, you have a funny way of showing it.
- Getting your undivided attention is like winning in Vegas: they fail more often than succeed and wonder if it was worth it in the end.
- Emotionally, you checked out a long time ago. Any help you could have been to those who need you vanished. It’s clear you don’t have the desire or the willingness (maybe not even the capability!) to assist those that matter the most to you.
- Unintentionally, they are hearing the message loud and clear: LIVING has to fit around WORKING.
Mr. Grumpy Pants
- You aren’t enjoying this and it’s affecting your attitude
- It wasn’t your grand scheme to wind up overworked, isolated from family and friends and beat down with nothing to offer anyone besides your employer.
- No one understands your dilemma – none of this is easily resolved. You recognize your condition but are unsure how to fix this mess.
- Preserving your mental health and well-being is a full-time challenge. The pressure that comes with not being there for those you care deeply about takes it’s toll.
- Doing something for yourself today (leaving at 5:00 PM, taking lunch, spending the evening with your kids) just means delaying the pain. What’s undone piles on and greets you tomorrow when you walk through the door.
Houston, we have no problems
- You’ve sent signals to the leaders in your organization
- By always coming through, no matter how last minute, no matter how unreasonable, you’ve told your employer that they are staffed correctly.
- THE BUSINESS DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU – your boss might, your peers might, maybe even your customers, but the business doesn’t. The business will take everything you offer and demand more. Is there an exception? Possicle. Can people make a difference? Absolutely. Do investors and shareholders care about the personal cost to you? Rarely.
- Sacrifice is the norm, not an exception. As Ramit Sethi says, when you call what you do a sacrifice, you become a martyr…and martyrdom is a condition from which you will never recover.
Hopefully none of the above resonates with you. Somehow, you endured and made it this far through the post only to say to yourself “man, Mark doesn’t know me at all; I would never let that happen to me!”
Or maybe you’re thinking “I love what I do and it fuels me; it doesn’t drain me. My family and friends have whatever they need from me whenever they need it. I mastered this a long time ago!” I’m glad for you and only ask you this: will you please leave a comment below and help a brother out? We could all learn from your experiences!
Get off the crazy train
If, on the other hand, you think “yeah, I’ve felt some of that before” or “wow, I hate reading about myself in other people’s blogs” then know this: ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST. It took years to get here and it’s going to take some time to undo what’s been done.
What you do from here will determine whether you irretrievably waste precious years or make a cold, calculated decision to pay the price required to exit the crazy train.
Next week, I’ll offer some tips about how you can restore order. Now that you see the problem, don’t miss the next post Inherited More Work Than You Can Handle? Five Ways To Manage Your New Found Wealth.