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The Best Advice I’ve Ever Gotten at Work

The work culture was great. It was empowering. We had the power to do what needed to be done if we could justify it. We had commitments at the beginning of every week and accountability at the end. Of course, we couldn’t always deliver on our commitments. Whether we committed to reasonable goals was another story. Sometimes I wanted more, sometimes I was pushed for more. But that’s not what the advice was exactly about.

My boss was terrific. Great and at times, scary too. In a good way though. One day I walked into his office for some accountability. I told him I actually did really well. I went on to explain how I had accomplished many goals and also told him why I couldn’t get some results I had committed to achieve. He listened. I continued to explain the true roadblocks that prevented me from making progress and then how I tried different things but they still didn’t work. I also said, “It snowed.” He listened.

Finally he said, “You are right, you couldn’t. I believe you. Everything you told me sounds reasonable. You have good points.” He continued, “But you didn’t deliver in full. Next week don’t bring me more explanations.” I was blown away. I wasn’t disappointed though. On the contrary, I felt enlightened. Don’t get me wrong. I miss working with him. He empowered us to be and do whatever we needed to, and he had our backs. He was (is) a great human being too. I did at times lose steam at the constant need to keep the power up, but I understood that I wasn’t there to give excuses. So the advice was this:

There are no excuses for what you can’t do.

It’s of course dependent on context. I don’t mean to say there aren’t any real limitations. Sometimes we have setbacks we need to work around. But the fact is that we are ultimately responsible of our actions to get to our destination. The destination you choose. That’s what I liked about using “commitments” in that work culture. It was a goal plus your buy in.

But that’s not precisely what I found insightful though. Not the work-related advice. It was the realization that the same is true for our lives. The things you really care about that you have not taken action towards usually have very powerful excuses we’re mostly unaware of. All the excuses you have are self-fabricated. And you know what? The excuses you have are real, and you’re absolutely right about them:

  • You might be scared.
  • You may not be good at doing this.
  • Perhaps you’ve had bad luck approaching that.
  • Maybe you just can’t find the time.
  • You don’t have enough money.
  • You’re too young or too old.
  • What else?

We have told ourselves very reasonable arguments why we haven’t tried something. Or why we can’t make progress. Or why we’re just not good (or too good) at this or that. All the reasons we have that keep us from being who we want to be and doing what we want to do are valid but should not stop us from moving forward anyway!

So you are scared? Then say: “I’m scared and I’m moving forward.” So you are terrible at x? Say: “I suck at doing that, but I’m still going to do it. So what?” You don’t think it’ll be like you want it to be? Say: “It probably won’t be like I’d like to, but I’ll adapt then!” My boss would probably say the same thing: “Okay, you are right, so? Do it anyway.” He would say, “Be unreasonable.” Why unreasonable? Because we are very good at reasoning ahead of time (valid excuses) why we won’t be able to be successful. Okay, whatever–go for it anyway! What’s important is not the excuses but that you do it regardless.

Try to recognize your own personal (very valid) narratives and excuses that keep you from committing or from achieving those commitments. Our limitations, real or not, are entirely self-imposed and mostly a product of your own imagination. Don’t mind them. Excuses keep you down. They keep you from leaping forward. Also important to note is the inverse. I’m not implying everything is about adding and taking more action. Sometimes it is also about stopping (changing) unhealthy action. Ask yourself: What must you stop doing? What excuses do you have to change a poor habit? What do you want to experience less of?

So after all these years, the best advice I’ve ever gotten at work is one of empowerment. Have clarity of the goal(s) you want to achieve in your life and commit to it. Excuses coming up? Do it anyway. Does it actually snow sometimes? Sure, but that won’t stop you for long. Remember, it’s the result you’re after and not the intelligent explanations of why you haven’t gotten there. Let’s go!


Juan F. Diaz

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