Everything to Everybody

Recently, I was working on a big change proposal with a team. As we continued to gather feedback from multiple people, the document continued to grow. It grew new visuals. It grew additional language. It grew rationales connecting our pitch to the language in our vision and mission statements. It grew clarification language. And it grew. And it grew. And it grew.

And suddenly, the proposal felt less exciting and less clear and more like a Cheesecake Factory menu. Now listen, I like the Cheesecake Factory. Don’t get me wrong. I do. There is something on there for everyone. But I have a very difficult time making decisions about what to order when I eat there. Why? There’s so many choices. So. Many. Choices. I’ve never heard anyone say, “You’ve got to try the burger at the Cheesecake Factory.” And even if they did, which burger? (I did look up the menu while writing this, and I have to say that I do find the concept of a “Glamburger” quite exciting.)

Anyway, it’s overwhelming. The margin for error in ordering from big menus is large. With that many options, the chance that we order something, don’t love it, and then wish we had ordered something else, is quite probable. Then, what? We pay our bill and leave feeling, “Meh.”

And yet, we do this more than we care to admit in our work. We do this thing where we try to be all the things to all the people and then struggle to feel effective or to be exceptional.

When I look back at the proposal I previously mentioned, now I don’t see a bold idea for the future. I see a watered down, mediocre semi-confusing thought about the future that reflects the fears of others instead of our greatest hopes.

There is a saying that “When everything is important, nothing is important.” Or “keep the main thing the main thing.” Now, I do believe we can accomplish more than one big thing at once. But we can’t approach all things with the same level of gusto and our students can’t either. They can’t work at the same level of intensity in all of their courses all the time. And yet, we seem to sell ourselves and our students this false narrative that they just need to work really hard to be their best in all they do, all the time.

I wonder what would happen if we didn’t try to do our best in all the things all the time and instead tried to be our best in what we’ve deemed as most important. I also wonder what would happen if we stood up for our big, bold, compelling plans for the future instead of trying to make those plans smaller and more palpable to people who are comfortable with the status quo.

I know that I was not put on this earth to work hard on maintaining the status quo, pay bills, and then die. I’ve heard people say, “I’m not willing to die on that hill.” A figure of speech that makes me wonder, “Yes, but what hills are we willing to die on?” If we stand loosely for a bunch of things, then we stand for very little. Also, if we work tirelessly on every little part of our work, instead of working smart on the stuff that matters less and harder on the stuff that matters more, this work is going to swallow us up.

I don’t want to get to the end of my career exhausted and empty-hearted. I want to feel a meaningful fatique. The kind where you know that you hustled for work that mattered deeply. And you did it with people you genuinely enjoyed.

We control more about our lives and our situations that we care to admit. We can show up the same or show up different. We can stay in the same place or go somewhere different. Those are the options.

What in your daily life deserves less attention and energy than you’ve been giving it? What deserves more?

What work are you minimizing, compromising on, watering down to make a few naysayers more comfortable? What is causing you to do so? How might you be more courageous?

How might you show up differently to impact an outcome in a positive way?

We don’t have to make ourselves small to make other people more comfortable. And we don’t have to make our work small either. We can choose. We can choose how we show up for ourselves and for others and for our work.

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