Being in marketing, particularly performance marketing, is a career choice that requires some comfort with working in a high-pressure environment. While we often remind people to put that pressure in perspective so that they free themselves to take more risks and create breakthrough work, it’s always more sustainable if you know ways that you can self-identify and defuse for yourself all of the moments that can get in the way of that freedom and perspective. One solution is something we lovingly refer to as “Doing The Work.”
So, what exactly is “The Work”, and why would a marketing agency blog post cover it when you’ve probably only heard of it from your hippie cousin when they recounted their enlightenment at Burning Man? Because your commitment to Doing The Work can cause a ripple effect that leads to more enjoyable, effective…and profitable…work.
To me, The Work is to know yourself more fully, to take responsibility for that which is in your control, and to find more alignment with your authentic self. Let’s take a look at some common situations that crop up when folks aren’t working on this:
- Maggie isn’t honest with herself about how much frustration she carries into work from her personal life. She snaps at her colleagues a few times throughout the day and delivers feedback callously in her afternoon one-on-one meeting. She finally cools down and apologizes, but because this isn’t the first time it’s happened, her team’s trust in her is eroding since they never quite know which Maggie they’re going to get.
- Gary is still working on getting to know himself, so the identity of Gary The Employee is the most defining sense of value to him. Because of this, any difficulty at work feels disruptive to his core and threatening to who he is. He’s upset for days after tough client meetings, and he can’t take constructive feedback without feeling like it’s an attack. Because of this, Gary becomes unable to progress his responsibilities very much.
- Priscilla doesn’t have an accurate gauge on their own limits and defines their success based on what they see their colleagues accomplishing, so they keep saying yes to more projects and committees at work even though they really don’t have the time or energy to do them all well. They work longer and longer hours to keep up, and missed deadlines and mediocre work starts piling up because they’re spread too thin. Priscilla probably ends up burning out.
On the flipside, the more you invest in knowing yourself, the more these categories of knowing start to positively affect your life, including your life at work.
- Knowing Your Limits: Once you know where your limits are, you can recognize when you’re approaching them and flag that to the people around you. It may be easier said than done, but work here leads to the ability to voice a healthy ‘No.’ When there’s a lower chance of overextending yourself, your quality of work can be higher. Your energy and motivation are less likely to waver, since this helps your workload stay manageable.
- Knowing What You Want & Need: Clarity around your wants and needs gives you the vocabulary to be solution-oriented and to make specific requests. When you can identify your desires, you can build solutions to potential frustrations so that you can move past them quicker or avoid them entirely. You’re able to have more productive negotiations, and your career is likely to be more satisfying if you’ve made choices and asked for things along the way that align with what you actually want.
- Knowing Your Identity: Your job is only one part of your life, one part of your identity, one part of your value – and the space it occupies is different for everyone. The more you build an understanding of who you are apart from work, the more you’re able to keep work in an appropriate spot in your life and build a healthy relationship with it. With this, you might find that it’s easier to accept constructive feedback, and to internalize it as a step in professional development, rather than as a personal criticism.
- Knowing What’s In Your Control: The more you can clearly see what’s not in your control, the more you can let go of the unwarranted responsibility (and related stress) you feel over those areas. As a people manager, I can deliver feedback, but I can’t control if someone is going to integrate it – so I won’t put undue pressure on myself to take responsibility for any continued mistakes. I can tell folks to communicate openly if they’re frustrated, but I can’t control if they ultimately will – so if they choose to sit on a building frustration, I don’t need to beat myself up that I should have done more or hold myself responsible for reading their mind.
- Knowing Your Triggers: Everyone has days where they’re frustrated, and everyone has pet peeves that set them off, but not everyone necessarily has the ability to quickly recognize when that’s happening. The more often you can recognize when a personal trigger is at play, the better ability you have to support yourself, whether that’s deferring a reactive response and practicing self-inquisition to make the next conversation productive, or even just giving yourself space by stepping away from your desk to take a walk or taking a mental health day.
Ultimately, these also lead to you being a more trusted colleague and leader. Think of a coworker or boss who you know is going to ask clearly when they need something, only say yes to a project when they can actually do it, not let a tough day or constructive feedback ruin their whole perspective, and doesn’t take frustration out on others – and compare that to a coworker who hasn’t been Doing The Work to assemble that toolkit. Probably not a hard decision to choose who you’d prefer to work with.
There are a myriad of ways to start flexing this muscle in your job, and all of them trace back to self-awareness. What are you feeling right now? What do you need? Are you making choices and decisions that truly align with that? What attitude or expectations are you bringing into this discussion? Are you actually open to receiving this feedback right now? Are you truly able to commit to that deadline? Get in the habit of mentally checking in on yourself – and enjoy the journey.