I have this problem – and have always had this problem – where I base my self-worth on what I can accomplish. As I said in my job interviews (and will probably always say, because I’ve gotten feedback that it’s a great line), I work best when I can see tangible results, whether that’s a policy change or a blast email or just checking an item off a to-do list. The flip side is that when I can’t see results, I feel like a lump of expired pudding or something equally useless.
As an academically successful teen, this worked to my favor. I got all As, therefore I was smart. I could point at my test scores and say, “see? I’m in the top 1%. I’m awesome.” I saved all the programs from all the concerts I was in, the shows I performed in, so I had evidence that I had done something and done it well. Apart from the crippling teenage depression, my life was pretty great.
Things went to shit in college. My anxiety flared up and flared up hard. I needed to focus more on my work, not less, but focusing was hard when I spent all my time worrying about my future, about screwing up my premed program, about finding a job and not dying alone, and even about if I was gaining weight from the college food (I was, and a substantial amount in proportion to my starting body weight). I was trapped in a swirling vortex of pointless concerns and my homework was just outside of it.
Needless to say, a lot of my homework didn’t get done. A lot of my tests didn’t get studied for. My GPA went from a 4.0 to a 1.9 at its lowest, although I managed to drag it up to a 2.7 by graduation. I did my final semester at UVM, and my grades were better, albeit still not great. I couldn’t point at anything to say “I am smart.” The closest I could get was doing as many crossword puzzles as I could get my hands on.
So now here I am in the working world. I don’t get graded. Instead, I get to look at my completed projects, the website I’m building, the full new database, and say “I did that.” I don’t feel smart anymore. I feel productive or good at my job. Maybe this is a better, more adult way to look at my accomplishments, but it doesn’t feel better. I miss having something to measure myself against – percentiles, grades, class rankings.
I got a promotion at the beginning of this year. I hired my first employee already. She started today. It’s mildly terrifying, because I feel that I have no business managing anyone when I can’t even make myself eat like a normal person or wear pants when I’m in the apartment. Sure, I can manage myself to the point of getting my work projects done, but delegation is a scary word when you measure your success by what you, personally, can accomplish.
The weirdest part about the employee thing might be her age. She’s a college student, friendly and put together, and I would bet you anything that she’s older than I am, or if she’s younger, it’s not by much. Add that to the fact that I’ve only been at this job for five months and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be giving off much of an “I’m your boss” vibe. (Plus I stuttered and hemmed and hawed my way through her interview but that’s me and one on one social interaction in general.)
I’m sure that this employee will do everything I want her to do. But I’m worried that I won’t want her to do anything, because how can I feel good about myself without accomplishments?
The solution, I’m sure, is to reframe what counts as an accomplishment. Effective delegation isn’t just a selfless donation of things to get done, it’s a success in its own right. I need to find a way to point at a project and say, “See? I didn’t hoard that project. I trusted someone else. I’m awesome.”