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.