Monday, March 19, 2007

Don't Be Yourself

Some of the worst career moves I've ever seen are by people attempting to "be themselves."

The old advice of "To thine self be true" only works if thine self is a reasonably pleasant and productive person. Unfortunately, that line has been used by many a lout or slug to justify worthless or offensive behavior.

These individuals use "I don't feel like it" as if it is holy writ.

"You don't feel like it?" What does that mean?

You routinely offend your co-workers, but that's no problem because you don't feel like being polite?

You missed the deadline on the project, but it should have been extended until you got in the mood?

You dressed like a slob for the client meeting but they shouldn't mind because you were just being yourself and not a phony.

A large portion of history's advancements was achieved by people who didn't want to be achieving them. They subdued their natural tendencies to sloth, vulgarity, pleasure, or abrasiveness and did what was necessary to establish effective relationships and get the job done. While toiling away, they often encountered challenges and attacks that made their tasks most unpleasant but they kept at it.

In doing so, they made their "selves" better and improved the lot of many others. They put a devotion to duty and higher standards above an "If it feels good, do it" attitude.

They would not have accepted "I don't feel like it" as the final word on how they should behave.


Rowan Manahan said...

I'm a big believer in trying to get people to understand what shape peg they are, so they can position themselves for the optimally shaped hole. But it's a thin line between denial and delusion ...

For everyone else, Joss Whedon's words come to mind: "Always be yourself - unless you absolutely suck."

pawnking said...

Personally, I think "Know yourself" is better advice than "Be yourself." If you know that you are a jerk, you should probably steer your career into an area where that is not a liability, or even an asset. If you know you aren't good with confrontation, don't go for a job where it's required.

Success in life comes when you can be yourself and be successful at the same time. That may be the root of the misguided advice to "be yourself." Successful people are almost always themselves, so you might think that is a key ingredient to success. I look at it more as a by-product of success.

Michael Wade said...

Rowan and Pawnking,

I believe you each make excellent points. The positioning to compensate for weaknesses can be a sign of real maturity. (I'm recalling an executive who stayed out of negotiations because of his tendency to botch deals.)