It may sound counter-intuitive for me to recommend that you shouldn’t care too much at work.  However, after reading this story, hopefully you can understand and appreciate why you should not care too much, if you want to accelerate your career success.

On Monday, I had a morning phone meeting with one of the data team leaders who was doing some reporting for our enterprise level initiative.  I was not looking forward to it, as the lead person is one of those less-than-competent folks I mentioned in my recent article, How to Deal with Others’ Incompetence.

The meeting went worse than I expected, and it only lasted 19 minutes.  For about 13 of those minutes, he was:

  • Interrupting me every time I spoke
  • Yelling at me for bothering him
  • Telling me I am not good at my job

It sounds more comical now, but at the time, I was furious.   It took all of my power to stay professional on the phone and just cut the meeting short.  I know he is a yeller, but this time he took it a step further – it was no longer a style difference, it was unprofessional.

frustration at workI was fuming. I started drafting an email to his boss for help, and then I planned to copy my boss. However, I also knew that I was too emotionally attached to the situation.  You see, I am one of these people that tends to care too much at work, and I know it’s not a strength for 3 reasons:

  1. Being emotional clouts my judgment for determining what to do next to get the work done.  This meant I was too attached to the way it should be done. I thought that if this person were good at his job, like some of the other teams I am working with, these discussions would not be so frictional. He would know how to answer the questions instead of yelling at me. This line of thinking was a sign of attachment, or caring too much. Once I stepped back, I realized that there is always more than one way to get the work done, and it doesn’t have to be done the way I did it with other teams. I cannot change this person’s abilities, so I can’t force the issue. Once I stepped back, I also let go of my expectations. I am now able to pose this issue to all of the stakeholders, propose alternative solutions, and collectively decide what to do.
  2. Taking things too personally leads to lack of motivation.  This person is offensive to most people whenever they demand him to deliver quality work.  It’s my choice whether I take his verbal abuse personally and let it affect me or not.  As I cared a lot of about this work, I let it affect me for a day.  It didn’t help me or the work I needed to get done.  The good news is I have the power to decide to not let it affect me anymore.
  3. Being furious makes us vengeful, which breaks relationships.  I was about to email his boss and mine so he can be reprimanded for being unprofessional.  However, it wouldn’t have solved anything; it would have only created more friction, as his team does not work for us or vice versa.  I have to accept that I can’t fix everything.  Whether this person should have this job is outside my jurisdiction.  If I keep pursuing this, it will just waste my time, create more friction, and distract me from the actual work that needs to be done.

Moral of the storythere is a difference between being dedicated to excellent work, and being attached to the work.  Being dedicated helps us strive and be nimble, so we can quickly adapt to unexpected obstacles — like this person.  On the other hand, being attached and caring too much get us emotional and stuck in our way of getting things done.  We cannot wallow in this latter state since it won’t help our careers.

It’s natural to feel connected to our work, but it is also important to be aware that negative emotions keep us from being at our best.

So, my advice is to catch yourself early when you get too emotional and personally affected by a situation at work.  When you become emotionally attached to a situation, your energy is spent on being unhappy, frustrated, or vengeful — all of these emotions are unproductive. When you minimize the time it takes you to recover from an unexpected, unpleasant situation at work, the faster you will climb that career ladder. It’s amazing to say, but perhaps we will all get a little further, faster, if we cared a little less!

Your comments: Do you agree with this perspective?  Share your comments and questions below.  Let’s have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner.

– Lei

3 Thoughts on “Don’t Care Too Much at Work

  1. Joseph Wright on February 25, 2014 at 7:34 am said:

    Great article on not caring so much. I spent two years caring that my job function was given to people who know very little about doing it properly, but complaining only made me look like I was unreasonable and nothing was achieved other than I became known as a person not able to get along with others. It affected my reviews and pay and got me nowhere, plus the company was not effected too badly as everyone hides their lack of experience so directors still have no idea how bad my job is currently be performed!

    I decided to stop caring as clearly I work with very competitive and under qualified people that care only about the mighty dollar. Once I stop caring I became much more content and now when I see my job being done so badly I just smile and feel sorry for all the people that clearly have a problem.

    The challenge is to not stop caring too much .

    Thanks for the advice and I verify it is so correct and well worth digesting if a person wishes to advance or even be more content. Thank you Lei for all your inspirational advice over the years, please don’t stop we all need you.

    • Lei Han on February 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm said:

      Joseph, Thank you so much for your comment. You made my day! 🙂 I am so glad to hear my article resonated with you. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s definitely a challenge to care just enough to do a good job but not too much to let other’s bad behavior affect our disposition. I think this happens to quite a lot of us.

  2. Belinda on January 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm said:

    You are so right, Lei. One more thing is that if we get too emotional at work because we care too much, we may let those who don’t care as much but good at b.s take advantage of us — end of the day, we may look unprofessional but they do – they can be calm simply because they care less.

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