For a long time I have been one of those people that takes what comes and tries to make the best of it. In my work, this meant receiving an almost impossible request and doing any and everything to make it happen, even if it meant ignoring my own needs, the needs of my family, the demands of my health, etc. to get it done because “it has to get done.”
Now, deadlines are one thing. Sometimes, those things happen. But a deadline is simply a term that means “this is when the work must be finished.” It does not, contrary to popular belief (and my own usage many times), mean “have the work finished by this time or you’re dead.” I held to this poisonous notion for so long.
I have received requests to get work done before. The time frame given was one that I knew was impossible. The people asking should have known it was impossible. However, more often than not I did whatever it took to get the job done out of fear that I would lose my job or that I might not seem indispensable.
I will tell you a vaguely worded story about the worst it ever got. I was on a deadline for a production, and the producer had failed to solidify things in an early enough time-frame. A lot of decisions/changes (that should have been made months prior) were made at the last-minute, and I wound up sleeping at my office, away from my wife and children, for five days. I’m not talking about a little out of town inconvenience. I’m talking about living 45 minutes away from the building where we were rehearsing and where my office was, but the workload thrown on to me in the last week was such that the hour-and-a-half commute would have made the deadline impossible to meet. I simply needed that extra “day” of work.
So, I stayed up late into the night in my office working, and when I couldn’t work anymore I lay down on my floor and slept. A few hours later I would wake up and start again. Surely, this proved not only my ability, loyalty and dedication, but that I was an indispensable member of a team, right?
Just over a month later, I was fired.
Now, I know things now that I didn’t know then, and my release had nothing to do with my performance, but other internal issues. Still, at the time, and even now though in a less severe way, it stung fiercely.
Why do I bring this up now?
Yesterday, I was editing a podcast episode for a client. He was interviewing Dr. Lois Frankel who wrote the book, “Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office.” I must confess, when I read the title and show notes for this episode, I was less than enthusiastic. But it didn’t take long for me to become completely absorbed in what she was saying because I saw myself in every one of the “mistakes” (her book lists 133 mistakes that women make in business) she discussed on the show. Then I heard her speak to me directly. Well, not really, but she might as well have been. It hit me so hard I immediately composed a tweet (ever have one of those moments? Of course you have.) Later, I searched and found this:
Your boss asks you to do the impossible. You figure getting it done is the way to get ahead. Right? Wrong. Being a miracle worker only begets more requests to perform miracles; and every time you do, you raise the bar for yourself. You’ve heard that old adage—don’t work harder; work smarter? Well this is what it means. Next time you’re asked to move a mountain, say, “I’d be happy to do that. Let me tell you what I will need to make it happen in the timeframe you have requested.” … Miracle workers may get canonized, but they don’t always get recognized!
Did you read that?