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On doing a “Good Job”

I was talking to a teammate the other day about work feelings and she said something profound :

You want to do a good job, and you want others to think you are doing a good job.

She didn’t say it as a great epiphany, more like a statement of obvious fact: of course you feel that way, everyone feels that way, duh. But the juxtaposition of the two wants side by side made me think about the ways they work together to help us grow; and the ways they hold us back.

Inward focus: {I think} I’m doing a good job

The “I think” in this statement is usually silent, but it’s important to include here because our view of our own work is filtered through our perceptions. This filter is different, and often less filtery than the one others use on our work, but it’s still there. The more certain you are that you don’t have a filter, the more likely it is that your filter has some pretty significant distortions going on.

light side

The core of this desire is one of the good parts of being human and it’s a cornerstone of internal motivation. It’s what helps us push through a case of the don’t wannas, and makes the pain of learning new things bearable. Not caring about doing a good job is almost always a red flag that you’ve experienced some kind of trauma.

shadow side

This is where the filter comes in. Everyone’s filter is unique but they come in two major themes. “I’m awesome; all evidence to the contrary is bullshit”. and “I suck; as evidenced by lack of perfection in things that I touch.”

Both filters are protection mechanisms that come with side effects.

If you are stalwart in your belief of your greatness and avoid any evidence to the contrary, your ego will be safe, at least for awhile. But you’ll miss growth opportunities and living things that stop growing start dying.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you find your faults and broadcast them, you’ll never lack growth opportunities, and you’ll beat critics to the punch so critical feedback from others will be old news. But eventually all those growth opportunities with no celebration of how great you already are is demotivating and all the “opportunity” in the world won’t help you stop playing Candy Crush.

Outward focus: Others think I’m doing a good job

light side

Other people see our work without our filters, so they can be a great source of insight into what we are doing well and not giving ourselves credit for. They can also help us see where we are falling short and not able to see it. Ultimately it’s not possible to determine the true quality of your work without some outside input.

shadow side

While we judge our own work through a filter, we have access to all of the information about what we think and what we do. At best, others see only what what we do (and what we tell them), and usually only part of that. The view that results from working with a curated set of data can be wildly different from reality.

This causes problems in two major ways.

If you assume that others see your work objectively, and they don’t get it, or like it, or understand why it’s important, then you may assume the work is bad and abandon it.

The other way this is a problem is if you decide to do some curating of your own. If you start seeing the approval of others as the goal, and not a tool for growth, you might focus only on presenting work that looks great through your audience’s filter, paying no heed to if the work can stand on its own.

What difference does it make?

Once you see the filters you can account for them. You can be more aware of when you shouldn’t trust your initial evaluation. You’ll be better able to decide when to take feedback from others to heart and when it should be discarded. You’ll be better equipped to ask good questions and present your work in a way that others will see what you can’t, and you’ll be better equipped to use the feedback constructively.

In short, you’ll be a step closer to knowing the objective truth about your work.

Categories: leadership work

Maureen Carruthers

Smart. Kind. Funny. At least that's the goal. I care about encouraging girls to consider STEM careers, helping nonprofits be the best they can be, cats, and German-style boardgames.

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