I recently went out to lunch with my family. It was Saturday afternoon and my father-in-law, who was planning a drive to the neighboring city for the weekend, joined us. At the restaurant, he realized that his old school Garmin GPS had been drained of its battery and required a recharge. He pulled out the wall charger and looked around for an outlet.
In an effort to help, as a good son-in-law would, I took charge. Instead of suggesting that he use the navigation app on his smartphone, I told him not to worry, grabbed the device and the charger and walked over to the concierge. They refused to help. Undaunted, I looked around and saw a wall outlet right by the door.
I quickly savored my small victory and plugged in the device. I realized that I really couldn’t leave just out in the open (you know … because theft of GPS devices is so rampant these days). In a moment of genius, I figured out a way to hide the device from main view by placing it inside a hard to reach crevice, making it difficult to steal easily. Plus it was right in my line of sight, so if anyone tried to steal it, I’d see them.
Fast forward to paying the check and packing. Now it was time to go grab that Garmin and return it triumphantly to my father-in-law, who as I imagined it, would jump for joy at my success. His appreciation would know no bounds and I’d collect some brownie points from the wife for future use.
I unplug the charger from the phone, pull the device out of its well-hidden spot and push the power button in delightful anticipation. Nothing happens. I try again. Nothing. I flip the device and see that the lithium ion battery had actually come apart when I’d placed the device into the crevice. This was because the cover of the device had to be removed in order to plug the charger into it. So, the battery never got charged.
With my hopes for brownie points, appreciation of my efforts and celebration of my genius completely gone, I handed the device back to my grim looking father-in-law with an apology. At the same time, I looked up to see my wife laughing at me and shaking her head.
“I can’t believe that the battery came off. All that work for nothing,” she said jokingly. “That is classic you.”
As she said this, something in my mind clicked.
“Does she believe that I failed to succeed in getting the Garmin charged because I did a half-assed job?”
“Does she have an impression that I fail a lot?”
During the drive back home, I started thinking.
It was true that I didn’t check the device to make sure that the battery was still in its place while charging. In fact, I didn’t even check to see if the outlet was working. It was a half-assed job. In my desire for a quick win and to get an easy approval from my father-in-law, I didn’t check to make sure that everything was working as expected before sitting down to eat. A tiny oversight that cost me big.
It also hit me that I have this tendency to jump up and offer help as much as possible. It’s my way to get the appreciation and approval from others. However, because I jump to help out on all situations, I don’t always succeed. It’s either because I didn’t have enough time. Or I didn’t have enough resources. Or because, to be honest, it really wasn’t something I wanted to do but offered to help anyway.
My intentions and my efforts, no matter how benevolent, were useless.
And there is the problem.
Even though I probably satisfied my family over 80% of the time, people tend to remember disappointments more vividly and for a longer time than moments of happiness. So, in my wife’s mind, the “classic” me failed a lot. The “classic” me didn’t always put 100% effort in achieving success when it came to helping my family. She placed a deep discount on the value of my successes.
The same is true at the office.
There are many of us who happily on a new project or a new assignment or a new task even when we already have enough on our plate. Because we are ambitious. We are driven. We want to get noticed.
And what better way to get exposure than to get your hands in as many initiatives and projects as possible.
But here’s the thing. No matter how well intentioned you are or how many long hours you are willing to put, when you spread yourself across too many activities, you are bound to fail at a few.
Some you will fail because you weren’t able to devote enough time to go through the minutia. Some will fail because you relied too heavily on someone who didn’t care as much about the project’s success. But most of the time, you may not completely fail. You’ll work extra hard to finish the project but will end up delivering a low quality product. You tried to please everyone, juggled too much stuff and things fell through the cracks.
You may not even notice. You’re so busy focusing on the 8 out of ten projects that were completed successfully and on-time, that you minimized the two failures.
But as I said, people don’t place as high a value on the successes of others as they place on their failures.
One little oversight or a little mistake can derail all your efforts.
In the stock trading world, there’s a saying: “You’re only as good as your last trade.”
The same is true in the corporate world. You’re only as good as your last success.
So how does one get around this.
Just don’t take on everything. Learn to say no. You don’t need to please everyone.
Those who say that the way to career success is to never say no. Those people are assholes. Take a look at them. They’re going no-where. You know why? Because they’re too busy being everyone’s bitch.
When you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy. When you try to stand for everything … you stand for nothing.
So be strategic about what you take on. Review all the stuff that’s on your plate. Get rid of i.e. delegate items that are time suckers with low impact. Take on projects and tasks that you know for sure you can complete, especially if they are ones with high visibility. Focus on one to two items at a time. And work on these whole-heatedly. Don’t cut corners. Don’t rush. Work your ass of to get nothing short of perfection.
Now you’ll be known only for your successes.
People may not like you for saying ‘no’, but they’ll like you a lot less when you say ‘yes’ and then fail. They may think you’re an asshole but they will begrudgingly respect you for being honest.
In my personal case, I didn’t really have to run around to help my father-in-law. If I hadn’t offered, he would have looked for an outlet and then would have moved on. He wouldn’t even have associated me with that bad experience. Had I not said anything, he would probably have pulled out the navigation app on his phone and used that. Yes, he hates using it but he knows how. In fact, that’s exactly what he did.
We would have gone on with our lives and I would have walked out of that lunch with a neutral score. But I had to get involved and so, by failing, I walked out in negative territory.