What I Learned in 2015 (pt. 1)

Happy New Year, everybody!

You know, the problem with creating New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re a recipe for giving up.  As soon as you fail a resolution for the first time, you immediately tell yourself “Damn it — I screwed up!  Oh well.  I guess I’ll try again next year…”.

Rather than publicly declaring my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, I have decided to reflect upon the most important lessons that I learned in 2015.  So, here’s lesson 1:

Unconditional Self-Sacrifice gets you Nowhere

I know — it sounds very harsh, but unfortunately it’s true.  If you always prioritize everyone else’s needs, then you make very limited progress toward your own goals.  Instead, you will end up working late each night just to catch up on your own workload.  By the time you’ve caught up, it’s already time to start the next day. Your goals will have to wait until tomorrow… again.

That’s bad enough, but it only gets worse.

As you repeat this behavior, many of the people that you are trying to help will begin to expect you to postpone your own goals. During team planning meetings, your needs will continually be given the lowest priority, which effectively means that they will never be addressed. By the time you finish helping Bob complete all of his tasks, another 20 tasks will arrive. Somehow, all of these tasks will be given a higher priority than that critical bug that you needed Bob to fix. You know — the one that has been costing you 20 hours of wasted effort each week.

Of course, from an operational standpoint, the problem has already been solved. You are the solution! You are already mopping up the mess each week, which allows the rest of the team to focus on their own priorities. Why should they invest any effort in fixing the underlying problem? You’re doing a fantastic job already!

In short, Unconditional Self-Sacrifice is a terrible strategy for accomplishing your own goals.  You might believe that people will return the favor, and thus you would be able to accomplish your own goals more quickly.  But sadly, it appears that many people will just take advantage of your good will. The more you help these people, the less they will care about your own needs.

A better strategy: only go out of your way to assist people who show their appreciation by returning the favor.  A little assistance from your team members goes a lot further than a big “Thank you!”.

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