When a group of people try to do something “just as we always do” or in a way “how it’s always done”, once in a while, someone in the group starts questioning the decision. They starts like this – “Wait, are we really okay with this? ” “Is this really what we wanted?” or “In the first place, …”
What they are trying to do is digging into the problem and trying to make everyone think more carefully about what is going on and find the best solution for the situations or problems.
However we tend to feel gutted when someone starts talking like this, not only because that conversation or meeting will take much longer, but also it is mentally and physically exhausting. Also, people who says things like that doesn’t seem cool. It’s tiring to be around someone who cares about the details too much. It’s a lot fun and easier to be around someone calm, easy going, optimistic, and can get away with what they have even thought it is not “perfect”.
I always thought I didn’t want to be someone who interrupts the flow of a discussion, and I always tried not to be someone who is too serious all the time. However, I gradually started to think it could be important to be able to see each situation in a critical but constructive way, and when it is really necessary, to be the person who starts the not easy, but substantial conversations with other people.
I once worked with someone who’s the best example of “says-the-right-things-but-pain-in-the-ass” kind of a person. It was my very first boss I had after I started working at an office, after graduating university.
She always, I mean every day, asked me things like this:
“What’s the real purpose of doing this?”
“What are we really trying to do here?”
“If that’s the real goal, this isn’t the most efficient way to get there, right?”
“This is how we always do this, but now things changed. Isn’t it the time to change how we do this?”
She’s someone who never settles for routines when it’s not the best choice. She’s someone who always seeks the best solution for any situation, thus never hesitates to ask such exhausting, tough questions.
Of course she had to ask those questions probably because I was still hopelessly clueless, pointless young girl back then.
But that’s not the only reason she was like that. She was always questioning whether her other colleagues, bosses, rules, systems, our routines, or even the whole company itself were working towards the real goal, by making the best decisions possible. She is someone who always pays attention to the things other people do “as we always do” mindlessly, and suggests new, better way to do it to make changes.
(Most of her colleagues were a little afraid of her because whenever they say something without thinking much or without opinion, she could immediately tell that!)
Since I was working for her, I often had to ask our colleagues – who are a lot more experienced than I was – such questions, on behalf of her.
Honestly I hated that part of that job – telling senior colleagues what to do, trying to convince them to do tiring but (hopefully) meaningful new things, knowing that I don’t know that much about this business. I was always nervous and worried if they get offended by me, and that worry was constantly killing me.
However, years later, now I believe working for her was one of the luckiest working experiences I’ve ever had – even though that was the hardest time almost in my entire life…
For example when a group of people started working on a project together, after a while, they will create some routine.
Having a routine is great, because that allows people work smoothly, let them get things done almost mindlessly so that they can save their time and energy for more important things.
However, routine will not take you far. If you rely on routines and stopped thinking much and working hard on what you really have to do, you will never get closer to your goal. Having routines is just the way to let you work more efficiently, but not the way to move you forward.
What can really take you towards your goal is whether you can dig into the problem when you face it. When you find a wall gets in your way, you have three options:
- A) you overcome the difficulties and then things get more interesting,
- B) you move on to the different thing to work on, or
- C) you just keep ignoring the problem and let things get less and less exciting as the time goes by.
C) is not an option for me. I know there are some people who like that option just because it is easy, but I also know that they are always complaining, without trying to make changes by themselves.
B) is okay. I often chose this. It is not as difficult as it may seem, because what it requires is adjusting to the changes, to the new environments, since it is like jumping from an environment to another. It might even be easy if you are not afraid of changes. And if you are not too scared of something new, it is even exciting!
However, I also have to admit that this could also be just relying on others. All you have to do is finding good environments which other people already created, staying there for a while until you find some obstacles, and when obstacles appears, you just jump to another good environment that already exists.
A) seems a lot of work. It seems overwhelming. But without choosing A), without occasionally reevaluating “this is how we always do” and questioning whether you are choosing something right not easy, it is impossible to continue something you started until when you get the result you originally aimed for.
You have to tackle the obstacles. Not leaving things as they are, not letting things get less exciting as it originally was, not jumping from a nice place other people created to another, you have to be the one who works hard to find the root causes of the unwanted situation and create the best possible solution.
That’s what taking responsibility of what you started means, I guess.
Years after I changed my job and my boss changed, these days I am finally learning the tough conversations she tried to have with people around her were not something “tiring”, “uncool”, or “too much work”, but rather a secret to make our job more interesting, exciting, and fulfilling.
After you learn how to occasionally have such real, necessary, hard but substantial discussions with people you are working with, you will experience and learn what your job really is, and how difficult but interesting it could be.
Changes, especially necessary and good ones, are not easy to make.
Even if you think you came up with a great way to solve the problems, sometimes it won’t work as you expected. Sometimes you could even fail or get hurt. But that is worth experiencing. Because that gives us lessons and we will probably make the better decision next time.
Routines and any other works people can do mindlessly, can be taken care of by machines, computers, and technologies. It won’t require human beings… well maybe in the future, soon enough.
Don’t be a wood drifting about in the sea. Don’t be a stone that lets the waves gradually change the shape of you. You can be a sailor, you can control where the ship goes. Steering a ship could be hard, but it should rather be fulfilling.
These days I started to think people around me who love their jobs, who enjoy their jobs, are not just doing what it’s fun for them, but working so hard to sail – not to stumble, not to sink, but to get closer to where they want to be next.
But don’t forget – taking the balance is also important. If you always try too hard to do everything in the best way, you will be a “perfectionist” in a bad way, and that could trap you and keep you from going anywhere. That is also time and energy consuming.
And especially if you are working not all alone but with other people, remember this – working for the first boss I had was one of the hardest experiences I’ve had! This means, no matter how important whatever you are trying to do is, having that serious, deep, substantial discussion could be very tough and exhausting for other people around you. Overdoing this could break someone.
This never means you should stop it, but it is very important to make sure people around you also understand why you are trying to do this and why this is so important, so that they see what they’re about to do as exciting and purposeful as you believe it is.
It’s been years since I met her or even talked to her last time, but I still don’t have enough courage and confidence to see her again… But someday, I know I have to tell her how much I appreciate the experience working with her, and how much I respect her as a business woman.