What If The Problem Is You?

From Merlin Mann in the last ten minutes of Back to Work, Episode 53:

If you’re the entrepreneur of your life and you’ve decided that you’re going to stay in this job, like what if that became a more transitive and muscular decision and you said goddamn right I’m staying at this job. I’m going to stay at this job for this long, but I’m not going to close my eyes to either what I could be doing differently here or what I could potentially be doing somewhere else. I think if there is one simple, tiny takeaway to get from all of this is that you have very little to lose by deciding that you’re in charge of all of this stuff.

At the end of 2010, I seriously considered leaving my job. I had been working in our family business for over a decade and, frankly, things weren’t working. I got really good at finding reasons for this. I was a “digital guy” working in a “traditional company.” People wouldn’t “give me the autonomy” to do what I felt we needed to do. My “contributions weren’t being properly valued.” If it is cliche, I thought it. I was frustrated, I was fed up and things needed to change.

I thought long and hard about how I’d gotten here. Was it the corporate structure? Was it my co-workers? Was I in the wrong role? I mean, I love our business, but things weren’t working. I thought about the people, the product, the pay, the control (or lack thereof). I looked at every possible reason why things had gotten to the point where I was seriously considering leaving a company that my grandfather created out of thin air over 65 years ago. Well, every reason except one…

The only thing I never really considered was if the problem was with me. I mean, how could that be? If I had more control, everything would be better. If I made more money, I wouldn’t feel quite so stressed. If we would just make some obvious changes, things would feel right… Wouldn’t they?

Coincidentally, right around this time a very real opportunity presented itself. Something tempting, something that there will always be this small imaginary part of me that is off somewhere doing it. It centered around a lot of the skills I’ve been developing over the past few years, and it was with a partner that I would have felt fortunate to get to work with every single day.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I realized that I was the problem and decided not to go. I’m not 20 years old anymore. I have a wife and at the time she was pregnant with our second child. This weighed heavily on my decision to stay, but I also didn’t want to blindly go back to something that wasn’t working. So over a long weekend and a big bottle of scotch, I decided to have a highly unpleasant conversation with myself. It centered around the totally insane notion that the business, my co-workers, my bosses, the pay, the pressure were not the problem. That there was only one problem. Me.

While unpleasant, it was illuminating. I took every bit of criticism I could remember and considered each. I looked at the recurring challenges and started to trace them back to the root. As I did, I started to see logical ways I could improve and began to feel a desire not to go, but to stay.

If you find yourself in the same situation, there are a lot of people who are going to tell you to go. There are a lot of people who are going to tell you to believe in your own abilities. And there is a good chance that they are going to be right. Before you do, get a good bottle of booze and have a long hard conversation with yourself. If you’re leaving because this is the next logical step in your career or it’s in line with what you’ve always wanted, great. If you’re not where you wanted to be and find yourself thinking that changing your job is going to fix the problem, you’re probably going to want to take a minute.

See what happens when you talk to your coworkers and get some hard, constructive feedback. See what happens when start performing at a higher level. Check all the way in before you decide to check out and see just how much you’ve been holding yourself back. Things won’t get better overnight. You’ve probably dug yourself a hole that you’re going to need to get out of, but try and climb out of it and see how you feel before you leave.

I still have a ways to go getting out of mine, but I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve stopped looking at all the perceived roadblocks. I’ve stopped obsessing about all of the things that “keep me from getting where I want to go” and am doing the work to fix my problems. I’m finding with every passing day that I made the right choice by fixing me instead of fixing my circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be that fantasy me out there somewhere who made a different choice, but knowing what I know about myself now, he wouldn’t have gotten very far (or would likely be divorced).

Start by fixing yourself, then worry about what you want to do and where you want to go. Regardless if you stay where you are or move on to something different, you’re giving yourself a far better chance of success if you start with the likely problem. You.

14 Responses to What If The Problem Is You?

  1. Oh. Oh my. Great effing post. Pardon the implied swear. It just says it all. Absolutely love this. PS. I once used a weekend and an entire bottle of scotch to Ferber’ize my son. :)

    • No worries on the swear! I tend to curse like a sailor anyhow… As for the crying kid. I hear you. Although I’m blessed with the ability to sleep through anything. The wifey, not so much.

  2. Fantastic post Michael.  I used to think that the grass is greener elsewhere and in that some new place will be better. Fortunately or not this is almost never true and with a bit of effort, thinking and self-reflection a lot can be solved without taking drastic measures.

    I like this post as it’s yet another example that spending time thinking and analysing situation allows to see different perspectives and options. There seem to be a lot of push for taking action and jumping into the situation with out any consideration for ultimate results. And although this may be ok for a 20 year old with not commitment, having family, children and mortgage changes a low.  Now I’m off to think and write down the results in my notebook.

    • Thanks sir! It is far too easy to get tempted in this day and age. I’m just getting started with the self-reflection, turns out this stuff is pretty darn useful.

      There are all too many looking to jump rather than commit. It certainly works at times, but more often than not, the jump is in haste. I’ve always excelled at haste, trying to learn to take longer term approach to just about everything.

      Hope the notebook yields some useful results.

  3. What you do with alcohol, I do with travel. When I want to brood about my life and my direction and the opinions everyone tell me, etc., I take a roadtrip. Maybe for a day or maybe for a week. I keep a journal on those travels: moleskin journal and a comfortable pen. I mute the phone and tell my family I’ll call them to let them know I’m fine. And I relax and brood and eventually return with a greater sense of direction.

    • Not always an option with the kids. Sometimes a one day hangover has to take the place of a week long trip. I envy the freedom and can imagine it to be an effective way to work things out.

  4. […] Posted on March 1, 2012 by Michael Schechter • 0 CommentsEarlier in the week, I wrote about a major project and life change that I decided not to undertake. Today I want to talk about the smaller projects that often distract us. We all have them. The […]

  5. The problem is always us. We need to be true to ourselves, learn our core defects, accept them in some cases, and play to our strengths.  Good post, Michael.

    • I’m a big believer of playing to your strengths as well, but that can be a slippery slope for those of us (read: me) who excel at crap rationalizing. Where I keep focusing a decent amount of energy is in identifying what I suck at that needs improving vs what I suck at that needs neglecting.

      Thanks Geoff!

  6. How did you drink an entire bottle of scotch by yourself?? 

    There is only one person we can control: Ourselves. And, as it turns out, we’re the only ones who can make us happy, too. 

    That said, if the opportunity ever presents itself for the two of us to work together, I’ll share that bottle of scotch with you while you write your resignation letter.

    • One sip at a time.

      Couldn’t agree more as to our control over things… just took me a while to come to that conclusion (it really is so much easier to be a victim). That’d be a fun bottle to drink, but a tough letter to write. Maybe we should just drink the bottle… Thanks for putting a late Friday smile on my face!

  7. Wow.

    My name is George, I live in Honduras, Central America (sorry for any grammar or syntax mistakes, English is not my first language)

    I had never heard of you or your blog. I’m going through rough times in my job (working in sales while being a customer service oriented person) and lately I have considered all the possibilities that I have to leave this position, withing the company as well as somewhere else.

    The thing is I didn’t want to leave this position feeling as defeated as I do, feeling I have been long enough in this hole I dug for myself and I don’t know how to get out of (literally, I felt like that with those words before reading this post)

    I thought that perhaps the problem could be me, so I typed that on Google “The problem is me” and it took me here. THANK YOU!

    I am sure now that I need to fix myself before I make any important decisions that could affect my economic future, specially because my wife just gave birth to our first son 21 days ago. (Huge coincidence, right?)

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