Career Advice

I Can’t Keep Up With My Colleagues Unless I Ignore My Self-Imposed Work-Life Boundaries—What Should I Do?

Minda Harts

Photo: Getty Images/Sarah Waiswa
When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column. See All

Question:

I feel good about the work I’m doing, but I often feel self-conscious that peers on my team are doing more than I am—that their work overshadows mine, that they do more than I do, and that they are better at it than I am. Save for working longer hours so I can feel like my output rises above theirs (which would compromise boundaries I’ve set for myself between work and my personal life), is there anything I can do?

Answer:

Thank you for this question and for your vulnerability. Trust me, you are not alone as you experience trying to navigate being true to your work while not competing with colleagues (or feeling the need to do so). It’s tough! My first piece of advice has to do with just your mindset: Remember that the only competition you have is with yourself. My second piece of advice is understanding that comparison is the thief of joy. So now, let’s dig deeper into your question:

As professor, researcher, and author Brene Brown has said, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” With that in mind, I suggest that you give yourself permission to take the time to assess what your career goals are in this season of your life. You might benefit from hitting the pause button so you can get clear on the work you actually want to do. Next, consider whether working more hours than you are scheduled to work, just to keep up with your colleagues, even makes sense as far as your goals are concerned.

Be careful and intentional with the stories you tell yourself, because sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to over-perform.

Furthermore, realize that the heart of your issue seems to be in your own perception. It’s your perception that the work you are doing, compared to that of your colleagues, is subpar. It doesn’t seem like you’ve received any feedback letting you know that you aren’t working as hard as they are, after all. So I challenge you to be careful and intentional with the stories you tell yourself, because sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to over-perform. And, I think you and I both know that is not a good reason to potentially burn yourself out. Once you get clear on that, you are, in turn, being kind to yourself.

I admit I don’t know your full story, but it seems as though you’d like to hold fast to your boundaries regarding your work-life balance, even though those lines seem blurred right now. The good news is that now is a great time to redefine what success means on your own terms, and that might mean meeting current expectations right now. In the New Year, you can decide what a higher output might look like for you.

Next, as you gain clarity, think about redefining what works means right now. For example, we’ve learned this year that many job functions we thought we couldn’t happen from our homes can. By that same logic, though, working from home can be even more challenging, because it means work can’t be left at our physical buildings anymore; now work is with us constantly.

To help you feel more confident in your work and in knowing that you’re meeting expectations, consider meeting with your manager to gain additional clarity on your current expectations. Have you had a conversation about what is expected of you and how you are meeting those expectations? You might be pleasantly surprised by what’s to come from initiating that conversation. And even if not, you will gain understanding of how your work manager is perceiving your work.

As a final suggestion for gaining clarity, I suggest you consider one of the pillars in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization. It’s the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone. So, what if you flip self-actualization on its head and make it team-centric? I believe the most well-rounded employees also serve as great peer mentors. Are you in a position where you can put your teammates in a position to succeed? Maybe there is a big project that you’re currently working on, and it seems overwhelming, but if you brought on another woman or woman of color to the project, this might also give them more visibility at the same time. Consider how you can enable another person on your team to succeed, because doing so is a win-win for you and your colleagues, no competing necessary.

minda harts

Minda Harts is the author of the best-selling book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. She is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Wagner. She hosts a podcast and LinkedIn Live Show called Secure The Seat. Minda lives in New York and has a French bulldog named Boston. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and sign up for her newsletter here.

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