Lately I have been hearing a lot of people complain that they shouldn’t have to do something because someone else they know does not have to do that same task. There is this sense that my day needs to be about not doing any more than is required lest we get talked into something that is not “our job”. Today I heard this conversation behind me on the bus I took into the city and again on the city bus as I rode through town and then at the coffee shop where I was meeting a colleague. In each case the employee is not questioning if the work needs to be done, that they are qualified to do it or that it might be satisfying work. No, that is not the concern. The concern lies in comparisons.
If my first response to every question is to examine what others are being asked to do the notion that I might actually be good at that task, that I might enjoy that task, that I might demonstrate in my joyful work something that inspires another, is lost. How sad, that an opportunity to excel and be part of a larger effort is overwhelmed by the compulsive need to compare.
I have thought long and hard as to where this compulsion comes from. You might imagine that it comes from a past where others have taken advantage of us, where after a long period of being asked to do this and that this person has finally resolved to stand up for him/herself and say NO! I used to think that myself. But time and experience has taught me this is not the case, those who have this automatic response are no more likely to have been taken advantage of in the past than those who continue to say yes to every request. There must be another reason.
My personal opinion is that it is a matter of people just parroting what they’ve been told without reflection. After years of watching people who died at their desk a new generation of baby boomers came along who refused to accept that same fate and developed a new language called “self-care”. In context it makes perfect sense. I wish my grandparents’ generation had practiced self-care, they would have lived longer, been happier, and witnessed to their loved ones in a more positive way. But there is such a thing as learning a lesson too well and if persons who have never touched the limits of their capacity or stamina get a hold of this language it can be a life-long attitude that breeds resentment and holding back one’s true potential.
If there was a way to convince ourselves that how we approach our work is entirely between ourselves, the employer and the work we do we would be infinitely happier. Imagine the possibilities of testing one’s self at work we have been trained, equipped and tasked to do without the added layer of “what about her/him?”
In the end this approach is short sighted even in a self-interest way. Employees like this can stay, can endure, and work to rule. But even so the quality of their work life will not be high. The relationships they form in those critical years will be not be lasting. It generally does not end well.
I remember a wise man once said to me when I was complaining about how much harder I worked than a colleague, “Kevin, just stay in your own lane.” It was good advice then and now.