Back long ago, back in the Before Times, I used to host new-grad associate product managers at work. They were fresh out of college, determined and eager to make a good impression – usually convinced that this meant doing All The Things, and usually doing All The Things themselves, without needing to ask for help or collaboration.
And why not? In high school, in college, this is what success means: complete your assigned work, on time. Be responsible for your own progress and your own success. Do not cheat. Understand in your bones that except for specifically assigned group assignments, “working with others” usually means either taking credit for others’ work (lazy, squirmy-feeling, but best case) or cheating (worse). Either way, it’s not great.
Then work happens, and the whole corporate world where, first of all, there is a team, in a way that outside of sports or theater, is entirely new to anyone who’s just begun working. And on that team, everyone wants – everyone needs – a sense of their own ownership.
This is pretty much directly opposed to Doing All The Things Yourself. (Also, there are too many Things for one person. This is why there’s a team.)
And so usually, a couple of months in, I would have to sit down with the eager associate product manager, who I’d like to make clear was usually doing an excellent job, and explain to them that they needed to Chill The Fuck Out.
Using different words than that because, you know, professional 🙂
My authentic self swears a lot, have you noticed?
And they would stare at me in befuddlement while I suggested that they needed to ask their lead engineer who was going to make a demo, not simply make it themselves; and ask the designer about what was going on with the design, not simply sketch it themselves; and that they should take it as a personal challenge to not take any action items that could reasonably be assigned to someone else, in any meeting, for the next two weeks – to see if they could do it, and as a practice to help figure out where their own actual value-add might lie.
They would stare at me, and I would explain that it would be okay. They were learning. And no matter what happens –
something will always happen next.
Because it does. Any of us can succeed in what we’re aiming at, or fail. We can stay healthy or get sick. We can find joy or misery, friendship or love or loneliness, angsty competition or the people we want to work with, and regardless of any of that –
something happens next.
Regardless of us. Regardless of what we do.
Unnerving, or reassuring. It varies by the day.