True Confessions of a Self-Centered Workaholic

Here’s my first true confession: I have lived a Darcy-centric life for every day of my 40+ years.

I am the youngest of four children. And the youngest by a lot: when I was born, there was a seven-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and an eighteen-year-old.  It was like having five parents!  There was no way every single one of them would say “no” to me.

But it took a lot of work to get what I wanted. I had to plan and plot; strategize and fail. Then learn from my failures.

So for the purposes of this blog, here’s the important takeaway: all that planning, plotting, strategizing, failing and coming back from failure has informed every stage of my professional career. You have to use those skills to survive and thrive in the workplace.

Here’s my Darcy-centric workaholic rule number one:

Don’t let anyone know you are self-centered. I just made my private true confession, but in general you don’t want to go around the workplace letting people know you are self-centered.

Here’s an example: if there is a meeting that multiple people have to attend and you cannot go for a good reason (you  have a previous commitment, an important appointment, a lot of logistics to undo it), that might be okay. BUT you cannot suggest to all the other people responsible for attending that meeting that their lives and schedules are less important than yours. And if you ask to change the meeting to accommodate you, that is what you are doing.

Instead of demanding (or evening implying or suggesting) a change in the meeting time, just politely explain that you won’t be able to make it and why. Then take action: say what you will do about the fact that you have to miss the meeting (read the minutes carefully, touch base with a friendly colleague who has agreed to take notes and fill you in).

Do good work. Develop the skills that you are good at and become the specialists in that area. Ideally, you enjoy those things you are good at and find them fulfilling.  After reading this forbes.com post about “following your bliss being bunk” I opted not to polish off the old chestnut “do what you love, love what you do.”

Read people. You have to know how to interact with people in the workplace and plan your interactions with them.  This ties back to childhood, when we learn from our failures.  How do you get your mom to say “yes” to something?  You probably pissed her off and found out how to get her to say “no” a few times before you figured out what worked. Was it just saying “please” and “thank you”? Or did you have to do a chore without being asked first? Maybe you had to offer to help her finish something and then gently suggest an activity for afterwards.  Whatever it was that worked on your mom probably didn’t work the same on your dad or those older siblings. There’s always someone who falls for tears and someone else who gets enraged by the waterworks.

The same is true in the workplace.  For example, everybody would rather hear feedback on what they do will before they hear about what needs improvement. So make it a habit to first give your positive feedback, offer a compliment, or praise hard work. Then find the best way to gently offer less positive feedback.

Be genuine This is mostly because it’s easy. It’s much easier to be who you honestly are than to contrive a complicated subterfuge. It’s exhausting to maintain the “pretend” you and still have energy left to nourish the “real” you.  Plus, most people know immediately when you are bs-ing them.

But being the real, authentic you only works when you are following the above rules–if the real you is a sloppy worker who tries to make everyone else conform to your life & schedule, being genuine isn’t really going to help your career.

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