If I had to choose one strength to characterize myself it would be that I’m a survivor. By that I mean that, whatever situation I find myself in, I will find a way to survive it. And usually to thrive at it as well.
I’ve always thought it was a good trait to have. Because the only certainty in life is that tomorrow is not going to be like today. Or if tomorrow is, then next week or next month or next year won’t be.
Change is a given. For the better, for the worse. Doesn’t matter. Change happens.
And it requires adjustment.
It requires learning the rules of your new environment and operating within them.
New boss? Well, maybe the casual friendship you maintained with your old boss isn’t going to work with this one. Or maybe this boss isn’t going to want to work with you unless they know about your entire life, not just your work product.
New organization? Maybe this one rewards collaborators whereas your old organization rewarded individual initiative.
Being able to “read the tea leaves” and see that what worked before won’t work now has immense value.
(And know that what an organization or boss say they want and what they actually reward are not necessarily the same.)
But there’s danger in being that type of person.
The danger comes into play when you place yourself in an environment where success means being someone you don’t want to be.
After four years of working from home I started an office-based job this week.
I thought the whole wearing a suit, working in an office thing would be a big adjustment.
It wasn’t. And that’s scary to me.
Because last time I worked in an office in this field, I worked at least six days a week and probably ten to twelve hours a day. Work was my life.
(That and mindless TV and a few beers every other night or so.)
It made me very successful at my job. But it didn’t make me very successful at my life.
I couldn’t be the type of person I’d prefer to be.
(I had an epiphany moment when I was in the office on a Saturday and my boss brought in his five-year old son and the kid wanted attention–as kids do–and I was annoyed that this kid was keeping me from working on a Saturday at 2 PM. I made a point the next time he was in on a weekend to play with him for a bit and at least smile at him, because I didn’t want to be the type of person who doesn’t like kids.)
I also wasn’t using my time in the way that I would want to.
Looking back on each year, about the only part of my life worth talking about was the two-week vacations I insisted on taking. (A rarity in my field. Most folks wouldn’t disconnect for that long at a time, but I had to just to survive the experience and not lose myself completely.)
It’s hard. Because if you go all in and play by the right set of rules, you are rewarded. And rewarded well.
But the danger is that you can lose who you want to be. In a “get it done” environment you can lose the care and compassion for others. You can find yourself forgetting to acknowledge people’s humanity.
In a collaborative environment, you can find yourself losing sight of your own personal needs and sacrificing for the team. You can get pigeon-holed into a specific role and not grow as an individual. (And then when things shift and that specific role is no longer needed, you find yourself without the skills you need to adapt.)
A survivor type can find themselves putting their head down and doing the work without reconsidering their choice, possibly for years. They get in, they learn the rules, they succeed, and five years go by before they even realize it.
And then they’re that much further down a path that maybe they didn’t want to go down and it’s that much harder to change course.
The key is to hold back a little bit and remind yourself who you want to be and where you want to be. That’s easier said than done, of course.
Or, better yet, never stay in an environment that doesn’t align with who you want to be and where you want to be. (Works for trust fund babies, but not for most of the rest of us.)