One of my very first jobs was marked with a huge failure. Something I had worked hard on, had invested hours in, had not gone the way we had wanted it to go. The details are not important, but I ended that day almost in tears. My boss at the time kindly took me aside and said, “Listen, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that important. Don’t take it personally.”
Wait. What? I just spent hours on this, invested a great deal of effort and heart into this project only to be told it doesn’t matter? That I shouldn’t take it personally?
I know what she meant to say. I know that she wanted to communicate that this one project wasn’t going to, say, cure cancer or make or break my career. But why shouldn’t I take every project, every job, personally?
Taking it personally means you’re invested. You will spend the majority of your time at work. Why would you want to spend that large of a percentage of your life someplace where you’re not invested? The easiest way to burnout and dissatisfaction is spending the bulk of your time in a situation that doesn’t engage you and allows you to depersonalize your work product.
I want my bosses to take it personally. I want them to approach each day not thinking “it’s not personal, it’s business.” I want my bosses to be engaged in their work, in me, in my team in a meaningful way. It’s easy to not think about the long term consequences when you’re of the mindset of “it’s not personal, it’s business.” This mindless notion is at the heart of the corporate scandals you read about and think “how could they do that.”
Think about your favorite coworkers. They are probably the ones that are excited and energized by their work. Their energy energizes you. Their creativity and passion inspires you. They are probably taking it personally. On the flip side of that coin, think about the people that zap your energy at work. Are they the ones that never get back to you? Does that accidentally sabotage your work by not doing theirs? Odds are, they are not taking their work personally and it’s impacting everyone around them.
Let’s be clear. By challenging you to “take it personally,” I’m not suggesting you hang your self-worth on your job. That’s extremely unhealthy. Protecting yourself psychologically is important. Mistakes at work should not mean that your self-esteem takes a hit. You still need to have strong boundaries around your work life. But there is a healthy medium place between being completely disengaged at work and being so invested that it’s your entire identity.
So, no offense to my first boss, but I will continue to take it personally. I will continue to invest myself in my jobs so I give it my best every day. But I have learned that there is very little at work that is worth crying over if it goes wrong. I have found my happy medium. Have you found yours?