When I was a young professional just beginning my career, a mentor made a puzzling comment that remained with me. She said, “Keep in mind that competency has its own punishments.” I knew that she thought I was a bit of an “over-achiever” and that I had a tendency toward perfectionism. I assumed she was simply encouraging me to slow down just a bit, not to push myself so hard.
Several years of professional experience later, I began to understand her warning. Let me give you some simple examples you might relate to.
• You are a good baker, and everyone likes your cakes. While that is flattering, every time there is an office event, it is now assumed that you will make and bring the cake. Other staff seem to do little, and you now feel a bit resentful that it is always your responsibility. When you mention this, your colleagues immediately respond by highlighting your talent and the fact that no one can compete with your cakes. You will need to be direct in your response and set some limits like bringing the cake for the holiday party or alternating turns with others.
•You are an excellent writer and editor. People often ask your advice or ask you to proofread something. Usually you don’t mind, but recently a coworker noted that she didn’t worry too much about grammar or spelling errors because the final report goes through you and you will always find and correct them. It suddenly occurs to you that you are actually doing their work. Again, this will take not just being direct, but pointing out the obvious and telling colleagues that sloppy work will be returned for their own spell check and editing.
•You know you like to be in charge of things, but, more and more, you find yourself in the team leader role. Your colleagues are fine with it, and they quickly nominate you to head the teams. This can be an asset if you don’t end up doing the lion’s share of the assignment. It’s an easy snare for controlling personalities and perfectionists to get caught in. Limit yourself in the number of team leadership positions you are willing to accept. Set a number of 3 or 4 per year and them monitor yourself. Be selective in which you choose. At the same time, offer to coach others who might be interested in team leadership.
Those are minor examples of how we may unwittingly contribute to the perception and abuse of our competency. Sometimes, however, our competency can have a negative impact on our careers, too. The following example will also be familiar to some of you:
• You have worked hard in your current position and you know your efforts have been noted by management. Finally, a higher level position is opening up and you would like to be considered for it. When you speak with your boss, she is not very encouraging. You are a bit surprised by her response. At one point, she lets it slip that it would be very difficult to back fill your position.
If this happens, it will require you to be fairly straight forward with your boss. Do so respectfully. Remind her that you would be happy to help train and assist a replacement. Most important, don’t become passive-aggressive or start slacking off. That has the potential to ruin your previous record of achievement.
Being considered competent by others is generally positive just as long as you don’t allow yourself to be trapped by it. Be more self-aware, and try to maintain some balance between outstanding achievement and permitting others to take advantage of your skills, hard work, and good nature.