The Dangers Of Keeping Score
Have you ever felt anxious about your job, but you don’t know why?
Everything is going well, or at least according to plan, and there is nothing obvious that should be causing anxiety. Yet, when bedtime rolls around, you struggle to get to sleep, and you have a perpetual sense that you’re falling behind.
Falling behind? Behind what?
That’s the question I was recently asking myself. I’m on the mark to have a record year. Things have been going great, and I’ve been able to help more people and teams and see more impact from my work this year than I ever have. By all accounts, I should be on cloud nine. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I noticed anxiety creeping into my thoughts, my planning, and the writing I am doing for my next book. At the exact moment that I should have felt peace and space I was experiencing the opposite.
That’s when I realized that I was keeping score.
This is an old habit, and one that dies hard. I was paying attention to a lot of little markers that have nothing whatsoever to do with my core work, or my effectiveness, or the impact that I’m trying to have with my clients or the people who read my books and listen to my podcasts. Instead, I was paying attention to things outside of my lane, and allowing them to pull me off-course and rob me of the joy and satisfaction that I should have been experiencing.
Here are a few of the unhealthy ways I keep score:
How THEY Are Scoring
When someone else gets something – a contract, an offer, an endorsement – that I wanted, it bothers me. It’s as if there is only so much of it to go around. As much as I encourage my clients to focus on their own lane, I have to admit that it’s easy for me to let my peripheral vision distract me. I’ve had to develop the discipline of reminding myself that they are not responsible for my body of work, and I am not responsible for theirs. Stay. In. Your. Lane.
I’ve seen this play out in teams when someone gets a coveted promotion, or is celebrated for a project, or gets more than their share of esteem for the amount of contribution they truly made. It pulls the team apart, and people begin to withhold because they feel as if they aren’t being treated fairly.
Business isn’t fair, just like life isn’t fair. There will be things that you get that you don’t deserve, and things you deserve that go to someone else. There’s probably someone else right now keeping score on what you’re getting that they’re not. The sooner you learn to embrace the inherent unfairness of the workplace, the sooner you can simply focus on bringing your best every day and letting the chips fall where they may. I love this quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.”
Things I Can’t Control
This is another one. I tend to track things I can’t control, and get anxious about things that I couldn’t change if I wanted to. It’s one of the curses of being a systemic thinker – I always worry about the governing dynamics, even when they are well beyond my ability to influence.
Inside of organizations, I see this play out as a general fear about market trends, or about the new company leadership (seven or eight levels above), or about the person on the team who simply doesn’t like you. There is nothing that can be done about any of these things – aside from diligently doing the work in front of you – yet they rob many people of valuable creative cycles that could be spent actually creating something meaningful.
Are you tracking the score of things you can’t control? Are there forces “out there” that are causing you to spin your wheels or worry about tomorrow?
My Own Expectations
This one is tough. There are certain expectations that I set for myself, and when I miss the mark on one of them, it bothers me. This is true even if I far exceed a dozen other expectations. There could be really good reasons why I didn’t meet my own expectations, but that doesn’t matter. I could still stew on it for weeks. Often, I don’t even realize how this is affecting me until I stop and really consider what’s causing my anxiety. Sometimes I realize that it is an errant comment I made in a talk the month before, or a bad client call, or something that no one else even noticed – let alone remembers – but me.
This is one of the reasons I start feeling like I’m “falling behind.” Behind on what? My own expectations. No one else even knows they exist.
It’s fine – great, even – to push yourself to excel. It’s necessary if you want to do work you’ll be proud of in ten years. However, you can’t allow the arbitrary scoreboard you’ve established to drag you down. It should fuel you, not kill your drive.
Are there ways in which you are setting expectations that you could never possibly live up to? Have you allowed expectation escalation to push your idea of success to an overly stressful and unreachable level?
I’m curious if I’m alone (I suspect not), or if there are arbitrary scores that you keep in your own work, on your team, or in other areas of your life that affect you. Feel free to share them in the comments below.
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas.