Give Me Your 90%

I don’t want 100%. And I definitely don’t want 110% percent. Here’s why.

teamwork three hands

When you work in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment, I’ve learned the hard way the dangers of being too close to the work, of working too fast, and of not taking time for yourself. Contrary to most business epithets, I don’t want all of you. I want you to have time to think before responding; I want you to be sufficiently detached that when someone’s work impedes your own, it doesn’t hurt your soul; I want you to measure twice and cut once.

We have the benefit and curse of being far more accessible than our predecessors. Work can bleed into our lives and sneakily eat up the time that normally we reserve for those things that keep us sane, whether it be writing, reading, watching television, exercise. Whatever it is, if you go long enough without doing them, you are going to be less you. And guess what – I want you.

Work can be demoralizing. If you’re lucky, there’s a constant tension between what you need to accomplish in a day and the demands of your industry or product, if you’re less lucky, there might be a direct conflict between what you are seeking to accomplish and the goals of those around you. Part of the reason I left law was because I didn’t want to be in a role where the objectives of my colleagues were precisely to thwart my own. But I found that you don’t need to be a lawyer to face conflict in the workplace – we want to build functionality into a piece of software that another stakeholder wants to prevent for reasons of resourcing and time. Processes that cause our team problems would mean money and effort for our counterparts to automate, so it doesn’t happen.

I work in an industry that is brand-new, subject to government regulation and driven by technology. We see pivots every day, which means that the thing that you poured your heart into might one day be scrapped completely, with no notice and little chance for future use. If your whole heart is in it, then it is your whole heart that gets trampled under that decision. With one toe out the door, you’ve got a head start on the new direction.

When I was in Support Leadership at Shopify, we often relied on the phrase: “You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others.” Meaning, you’re little use to those around you or to the work if you’re burned out and demoralized, so do what it takes to make you, you. Work is important, but your sanity comes first.

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