Punishment for Becoming Better

Punishment for Becoming Better
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If you do something for a living every day (i.e., you have a job) you have two choices:

  • Learn and become better: this is the default path for most people (it’s hard to do something over and over without getting better at it).
  • Stagnate and regress: this is actually harder than progress, and may require some subconscious proactive self-sabotage.

So everything is better if we automatically make progress, right? Not quite, because when we make progress, other people (including bosses) start to notice, and they then give/bring/order more of the same work—not a new type of work. Usually it’s the same stuff you’ve been doing already (and for the same money), because management doesn’t want to lose a good producer. I call this punishment for becoming better.

In fact, some management books suggest not promoting the best performers (like sales people or software engineers) to management in favor of their average peers. The thinking goes like this: I’m not sure if he/she will be good at a new role, but I don’t want to risk losing my top performer if he/she turns out to be a disaster in his/her new role.

For example, if you distinguish yourself as an outstanding software engineer, you can expect that you would be given critical tasks, projects with missed deadlines, more responsibility (often without increased authority), and unsolvable problems. Oh, and you might be expected to start working nights and weekends, or substitute, or pick up extra shifts.

The solution—besides the self-sabotage mentioned earlier, and mediocrity—is to have affinity for what you do. This might require changing fields and trying something new. I believe that we tend to start liking what we’re good at, but liking and loving don’t have the same emotional levels attached.

PS: I intentionally don’t use the word passion, because it is overused. Sadly, passion about a company and its product is expected from employees, and even put on the job descriptions and discussed during performance reviews!

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Azat Mardan
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