Five Common Work Myths We Tell Ourselves
People lie. This is a fact of life up there with taxes and death. And I would argue the more toxic the organization, the greater tendency to bend the truth in order to maintain a status or standing.
For a long time, I believed that the truth will set you free – and I still do to some extent. But the truth has its own timeline that may or may not have anything to do with shipping that product, closing that ticket, or protecting your reputation.
I remember welcoming a young analyst onto my team years ago. Everyone told me she was a superstar. And certainly if you listened to her, she was. She claimed to do things that I had no idea she was involved in.
But then a funny thing happened. When I asked her about a standard metric and how it was calculated, she was stumped. She had no idea. And then admitted that she only attended the kick-off before she was reassigned to something else.
The lie she told herself was loud and clear to me: she was the one with the answers. She had staked her identity on it. Until it was challenged.
It got me thinking about all the records I play in my own head that led me into hot water as well. These myths are at best inconsistent with the reality of the workplace and at worst completely false.
“It ain’t the things we don’t know that hurt us. It is the things we do know that ain’t so.”
As you read through these, think of someone you know who takes pride and repeats these statements regularly in conversation. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see the messages for what they are: fiction, not fact.
I Need To Work Harder
This is a classic stand-by with so many layers. From burning the midnight oil to no pain/no gain, this myth can be found everywhere in American culture. It’s also the go-to soundbite for any celebrity.
What’s your secret to success?
What the media fails to tell you is that for every hard work and success story, there is a hard work and failed story.
Some people work really hard in high school and don’t get into the Ivy League. Other people work really hard on a relationship, only to have it flounder. Still others work hard and get fired.
Blind luck has a lot more to do with our destiny that we care to admit. I’m not proposing that you stop working hard. Rather to recognize that hard work is one ingredient of a recipe that requires constant taste-testing and adjustment.
I Like Being Busy
When I was a mere analyst in management consulting, there were so many times I asked clients why they were doing something. They often just shrugged and said, “Because that’s what we’ve always done.”
This is a slippery slope to burnout.
“It’s not enough to be busy…the question is: What are we busy about?”
The cure for this mentality is to always make sure you know the goal and keep it in focus. Ask why. And if you don’t feel comfortable asking why, say that – “I’m not sure how to ask this, but can you remind me what the purpose of this is?”
Most managers will be flattered by your curiousity. And it shows you care. Which you do…about your time.
I Can Do It Myself
You can, but do you want to? We often confuse effectiveness for efficiency and vice versa. What is the best use of your time? If someone else can do it faster and quicker, I actually find great joy in paying them.
“Hire your weaknesses.”
-Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx
The startup scene has sprung many avenues to find cost-effective help from Fiverr to UpWork. Above all, you are human. You have limitations. What you don’t know can hurt you. Just ask anybody who’s tried to renovate a home by themselves to save money.
I Need The Answer
Most formal education systems are built on this tenet: get the answer, get good grades.
This thinking can really work against you at work. This dogmatic commitment can keep us from being flexible, creative, and innovative.
For example, I live in a 300 square foot apartment. When most people need to sweep the floors, they use a broom. My living situation is so small that I find it easier to crouch down and wipe the floor with a paper towel – and save the broom space for art supplies.
There are always at least two approaches to any solution. Being open to that reality increases our chances of finding something new and creates deeper understanding. There is power in questions – not answers.
I Work Best Under Pressure
I used to believe I did my best work under pressure because I did – it was also the only time I did meaningful work. Everything was a fire drill. This is not sustainable or productive.
Peeling back this onion, I realize that this line was an excuse to justify procrastination.
The reality is few of us actually do good work under pressure. And it exponentially increases the chance for mistakes.
“Nothing is as easy as it looks.
Everything takes longer than you expect.
And if anything can go wrong, it will –
At the worst possible moment!”
Tuning into these frequencies keep us from doing our best work. So don’t cheat yourself.
Next time you hear yourself saying one of these things, challenge yourself to think: actually not really, it depends…