We all have those things about us that make us unique. Maybe you're a rock-star programmer, or a designer with an eye for detail like nobody else. Sometimes, however, the qualities that help us excel at our jobs can also be our greatest downfall. Here are some of the qualities my colleagues and I possess that have worked both for and against us.
Daniel B. Kline: As a freshman in college, I served as co-entertainment editor of the school newspaper along with my friend Jeff. The paper had very few upperclassmen on staff because of a financial scandal earlier in the year, so we decided to jointly run for editor-in-chief of the paper. We lost and, in fact, we lost the next year as well.
In both cases, my ambition pushed me to go after a position I wasn't yet qualified for. When we finally won the job early in our junior year (after the second editor who beat us stepped down), we were ready and served in the position longer than any editors before us.
Ambition causing me to over-reach has been a recurring theme in my career. On the flip side, ambition has also led me to go after dream jobs that were reaches that I was able to attain.
It takes perspective to be both ambitious and realistic. In my younger days, my ambition sometimes bordered on arrogance. Now, I'm still ambitious, but it's more focused. I no longer want to take over. I'm happier to work with smart people and focus my ambition on creating new projects we can work on or delivering special content that advances our business goals.
Now, I see how my earlier ambition could put people off. Even if you're capable of doing a job, it's not always the best practice to try to jump the line. Instead, ambition needs to be moderated with patience and respect for others. That's a lesson younger me did not fully understand, but it's one that has since helped me become the best team member I can be.
Not saying no
Jason Hall: While taking on extra responsibilities when asked has certainly helped me get ahead at work, it has also caused me to let others down more than once. I used to pride myself on being accommodating, but there's a downside to not saying no: failing to live up to what you promise when you find yourself with more on your plate than you can handle.
What have I learned? First, you don't have to say yes every time you're asked to take on extra work. Second, sometimes you can negotiate a little when your boss or a client comes to you with a request. Just because they say "I need you to do this and I need it tomorrow" doesn't mean that's the case. In my experience, if I set a reasonable expectation and ask for more time, such as "I can take it on if you can give me three days," not only is this often within the "real" deadline they need, but it keeps me from failing to live up to a deadline I won't be able to meet anyway.
Furthermore, sometimes you really do have to just say no. It's better than saying yes to something unreasonable and risking your reputation in the process.
Maurie Backman: I'm the sort of person who takes pride in her work, even when the task at hand isn't my favorite. In fact, I've been called a perfectionist on more occasions than I can remember, and I agree that it's a pretty accurate description. But while my tendency to get things just right has helped my career in some ways, it's also set me back.
First, the positive. Getting the job done right is a good way to snag a promotion, or at least buy yourself a touch of job security. If your manager sees that your work is consistently high in quality, that boss will most likely want to keep you around. When I worked for a hedge fund earlier on in my career, I didn't get along well with my bosses and colleagues on a personal level, but they all agreed that I was a hard worker whose output reflected the effort I put in.
On the other hand, being a perfectionist hurts me sometimes as a freelancer. Now that I don't collect a salary, but rather, get paid for the work I do, I often find myself sinking more time than necessary into certain tasks in an attempt to get them just right. In doing so, I eat up valuable time that could be spent moving on to new endeavors.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to do the best possible job. Quite the contrary -- you should make an effort to wow your boss and exceed expectations. But sometimes you have to know when to be satisfied with your output and walk away.
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