When you are told “you’re the only one who can do it,” does it make you proud, or does it make you feel pressured?
How about when you are told “there are plenty of others who can do what you do” – does it make you feel insulted that you are seen as just another replaceable part, or does it make you delighted that there are back-ups for you and you are backing up someone else?
There was a time when it made me proud to hear others tell me “you’re the only one who can do it.” I then held a highly specialized job and had qualifications that few others had to prove I was fit to do the job, so I used to think “of course, I’m the only one who can do it!” I was usually the youngest among my colleagues and with the least working experience, but it made me feel my expertise was rightly acknowledged and properly valued.
But after a while, I came to realize that maybe I am told I am the only one who can do the job so others did not have to do it. By that time, I was being consulted for “expert opinion” from my colleagues and even my boss on every detail of the work we did as a team, so I was involved in the jobs of just about everybody around me… and often times I was doing it for them, because it was more efficient and productive for everybody that way.
The youngest and the least work-experienced was now practically running the plan-do-check-act cycle for the entire team. I did not have the time to feel proud any more. I was scared all the time that I would be left alone to take the blame if anything went wrong. All I felt was the pressure of being the manager, without getting the pay for being one!
Luckily, the HR department saw this situation as fatally flawed, and transferred me to another team before I was exhausted. Well, luckily in hindsight – at that point I felt like I failed miserably on the job I was supposed to do well. I resented being moved to a team where the job was equally specialized but I had no expertise in.
At first, I was only given very simple and easy work that anyone could do. But in this new team, everybody checked everybody else’s work, which meant I had ample opportunity to observe and learn from others without taking up their time to be taught. Yes, there were a lot of redundancies, but there were very few mistakes… and if there were, everybody shared the blame. In no time, I was able to become an efficient and productive member of this team, and with support from my new colleagues and boss, I got to be assigned the leader of a couple of key projects.
Some time I was moved, I had a chance to take a peek at my old team. And whaddayaknow, they have perfectly filled up the hole that was made when I left! It was not that they did not need me – they kindly told me I could come back any time I wanted – they simply found a way to do what I used to do in the way they could.
So, maybe I am not the only one who can do what I do.
Maybe I have some expertise in some area, but it is not a necessity to have in doing my job.
But maybe there is one thing no one else can do.
Maybe that is being me.
Maybe nothing is more important than feeling like yourself… not pride or pressure, resentment or relief for being, or not being, the only one who can do something.
So if your job becomes too much for you, maybe you can let someone else take it, before it takes you over and you end up losing yourself.
The work you do will continue to exist even after you are gone, but you will cease to exist the moment you let go of yourself. Let us not let work take lives away.