Do you take everything at work too seriously?
When I worked at a company called Kemper Insurance, my job was to provide HR services to our mergers and acquisitions department. Instead of calling it M&A, we called it Capital Development.
Except it didn’t make much money.
We’d buy an emerging technology company to acquire the IP. Then we’d eventually lay the workers off and try to make money from the new insurance product with existing employees.
One day, our CFO bought decided to flip another company. The communications manager and I were called into a boardroom and asked to work on a strategy to share the news. I remember saying — I can’t believe nobody asked me for my opinion on this decision.
And my colleague was like COUGH ** SHUT UP ** COUGH.
I took his advice and stopped myself from talking, but I wanted to push forward. Who better than me to offer an impression of how this decision would impact people? Is there anybody more connected to the workforce who could provide insight on productivity, bandwidth, and whether or not our existing employees could take on additional work?
When the CFO left the room, my colleague was like — Holy smokes, kid, you are dumb. I know you’re ambitious. I know you have ideas. But buying or selling a company is not your problem to solve. If you think for one minute that an executive leader is going to ask either one of us for our thoughts before he makes a strategic decision, you’re going to be miserable for your entire career. Don’t let things you can’t control get under your skin.
Too late, buddy.
Professional detachment will save your soul.
In retrospect, my colleague was a smart man with integrity who was telling me to stay in my lane in the healthiest of ways. Only now can I see the wisdom.
Do great work. Have an opinion when asked. But don’t try to solve problems that aren’t yours to tackle. Then go home at night and leave work at work. Kiss your husband, make dinner, and enjoy your personal life.
What he was espousing was professional detachment — the ability to distance oneself from emotions during uncomfortable and stressful times at work. Even if times are awkward or intense, we don’t have to get caught up in emotional turmoil. We can demonstrate principled integrity and then go home.
Why should we professionally detach?
Professionally detach for the sake of taking work less personally for the sake of your sanity. For sure, stop taking everything personally as an insult to your soul.
If you need some help learning how to professionally detaching from work, you could try asking yourself two questions:
- Would an outsider see what I see?
- If they saw it, how would they coach me to respond?
You’ve been on the internet long enough to know how to talk your best friends, colleagues, and family members off the ledge. Try being your own coach, advisor, and mentor. Give it a shot. You have that capacity within you.
Self-leadership is the answer.
Since the time I tried to tell the CFO what to do, I’ve developed a stronger resolve to pause, think, and reflect before I react to something at work. Do I still overstep and take offense? Sure. Do I always try to stick my nose into projects and activities that aren’t mine? Of course. But, with practice, I’ve learned to channel my intense passion into other areas of my life that deserve it.
Being intentional about your energy? That’s what self-leadership is all about.