Learning to Let Go – A Career Lesson on Over-Committing

One of the important lessons I have learned in my career is the value of sharing my responsibilities (and accolades) with others and being careful about taking on more duties than I am able to handle. I’ve come to learn that over-committing myself and not being able to fulfill my part do result in me becoming a bottleneck to my organization and to other colleagues. The ability to say no and to remain focus on key priorities, in my opinion, are very important management skills I am in the process of learning. Too often, in our effort to please our customers/partners by trying to meet all their demands, we find ourselves having to compromise in the quality of our work and worse, we end up failing to deliver quality work in a timely manner. This is easier said than done given the seemingly infinite projects that need to be done with scarce resources. In addition to trying to please customers beyond my capacity, there were other reasons as to why I found myself over-extended. As I reflect back on my career, I think about why was it that I fell into the trap of committing beyond what I was able to deliver. Here are just a few reasons:

– Saying “no” meant jeopardizing future opportunities. Especially during my early part of my career, I thought I had to accept every tasks given to me or risk not advancing in my career.

– I fell into the trap of “hero mentality”. I felt I had to solve every problem that came my way, because that’s what heroes do. Did it feel good being recognized for being the “hero”? Absolutely, but I soon found out I was getting burnt out as I was working too many hours. I also found out being a “hero” also brought out professional jealousy from others who may have also wanted to be the “hero”.

– I felt the need to establish my areas of authority/boundaries when I was promoted to a higher position. Areas of responsibilities don’t always match what is in the job description as duties are not always exclusive to a position. Sometimes, there are more than one person responsible for the same duties.

– I thought I was the only one capable enough to do the job. I had the “expert” mentality. This was a bad mentality, especially in a team lead role. Not only is it a selfish/arrogant mentality, it’s also not sustainable nor is it scalable. When I was the only person who knew how the applications I developed work, I had to do the maintenance myself and that prevented me from moving on to new projects.

– I viewed every projects/tasks as critical/high priorities requiring immediate resolutions. Instead of spending some time analyzing the appropriate response required and planning what needed to be done, I immediately went to work fixing issues/projects that came my way.

I think I’ve changed my ways as I became more experienced and more mature in how I deal with my responsibilities/career. I’ve learned to “let go” and not feel as if I have to take on every responsibilities that come my way. In a way, taking on too much beyond my means seems selfish. I had to change my ways in part, it was out of necessity as I found myself being burned out and not having the appropriate blend of work/personal lifestyle. It was also a commitment on my end as a supervisor to model what I think is the right approach to work to my team members and other colleagues. I’ve come to learn, through experience, the benefits of not always being the one to take on every responsibility. Do I always succeed in my attempt to stop over-extending myself? Of course not. But, I am more careful about putting myself in situations where I may not be able to fulfill my responsibilities.




5 thoughts on “Learning to Let Go – A Career Lesson on Over-Committing

  1. lmendersby

    This is a great post, Joe. I’ve definitely seen myself fall into many of the traps you’ve mentioned. My biggest challenge when it comes to opportunities and (over) committing is wanting to take advantage of anything and everything that comes my way. Like a professional FOMO (fear of missing out), I feel an almost obligation to take on responsibilities that are given to me to express gratitude for the privilege and to build the potential for even more surprises that the universe often hands me. A very wise and dear friend and I had a discussion about this, and they mentioned the real and important possibility of sharing my privilege by sharing opportunities. As relationships are as important to me as opportunity, I’ve found great joy and connection in ‘giving away’ opportunities that may not fit for or with me at the time. It’s still a slippery slope, but a vital piece of self awareness. Thanks, as always, for sharing Joe!

    1. Joe Sabado

      Yes!!! Yes!!! Thank you, my friend. Opportunities are definitely privileges. I’m glad you articulated this explicitly. This is even more significant in our role as leaders/mentors/managers. I’ve written before the importance of experience, including making mistakes, as part of learning. If I don’t provide the opportunities for other folks by not sharing, then we’re not developing others. I’m also reminded by something I wrote a while ago about living with the mindset of abundance instead of scarcity. There are so many things we need/could/should do, that sharing is by no means a bad thing.

      1. lmendersby

        Absolutely! I’m still learning to reframe my habit of ‘do all the things’ to something more intentional and selective that includes others with skills and strengths that are better suited to take advantage of opportunities. I’ve had great personal and professional success bringing others into opportunities that have been provided to me, so part of what I now MUST do is give back to show gratitude for all that has been given to me. With great power (and possibility) comes great responsibility. 🙂

  2. Kristen ABell

    Love this post, Joe. I think many folks (myself included) also struggle with the do-it-all mentality in areas both inside and outside of our work (for example, volunteering in professional organizations). I’ve recently come to understand that by trying to be the person who does it all – the hero – I may be in fact hurting myself and others. I’m wearing myself out and not giving others the opportunity to step up that they’re looking for. You nailed it on the head with this one, friend. Keep on writing!

    1. Joe Sabado Post author

      Thank you for reading and the response, Kristen! I’m guilty myself in the past and still do this occasionally. I suppose the fact that my energy level is a little lower now and I have other responsibilities (course work) forces me to share the load a little bit more. hehe.


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