Career lesson Learned: Giving all my time away

As a meta note, I want to start sharing more career lessons I’ve learned (read: mistakes I’ve made) on this blog.

For the longest time my approach to choosing projects at work was ambivalent: “I’ll work on whatever the team needs the most. I don’t have a preference on specific technologies.” This mercenary attitude served me well for many years (which is probably why I continued using it for so long). I was assigned to interesting projects and built up areas of expertise I otherwise would have missed out on. I literally would not be on the team I am on today if I had not been open to chance opportunities to work on random interesting projects outside my wheelhouse.

However, I recently learned a valuable lesson at work: this approach is stupid. More specifically: by giving all my time (and therefore control over my priorities) to my team lead, I was not participating at all in the shared responsibility of identifying what the next high-impact work is. To describe it a different way, the way I worked was all “top-down” and no “bottom-up.” Writing it down makes it sound like the most obvious thing in the world, but it was pretty easy for me to get stuck in the cycle of taking on anything to try to be helpful.

Going forward I want to spend way more time:

I want to clarify that I still very much value branching out and tackling problems outside of my wheelhouse. The change I want to make is taking more ownership of which projects I take on, instead of leaving it up to the winds of the organization.

I wrote about something similar 5 years ago but apparently the message didn’t quite get internalized.

Anyway: that’s my lesson. In the future don’t give all my time away as a gift. I won’t be adequately rewarded for it.