Lessons of 2004: The “Your Mom” Rule

Only your mom cares how hard you tried.

There’s this thing I do, and only lately have I realized how deeply boneheaded it is. What happens is that someone will offer me a task or project that I want to take on, or reveal a new complication to a task I have already undertaken, and I will suspect that the task as currently defined may be beyond my ability to complete competently. (Not is, mind you; just may be.)

My reflexive response tends to be to sigh heavily (or its online equivalent) and say, “Well, that’s going to be really rough, but if that’s what you need, I’ll take a crack at it.” There is a part of me that then thinks that if problems arise, or things don’t work out, well, I put my cards on the table, and they know the score. I have done this a lot over the years.

This is totally dim. The fact that I usually get away with it because I’m good at deathmarching makes it no less asinine. No one wants you to do your best, they want you to do the job. They don’t want you to tell them no, but they really don’t want you to say yes and then fail. And they don’t care that you tried really hard; at best, the fact that you tried really hard and still failed just makes it awkward to yell at you.

Part of this is that I tend to assume that someone wouldn’t ask something of me if it weren’t a reasonable request. Thus, when someone asks me to do something beyond my limits, the very act of asking tends to make me think, “Well, if they think I can handle it, maybe I can. They know the nature of the task better than I do.” Thus overlooking that it is not other people’s job to gauge my limits, and ignoring the fact that people often make (intentionally or not) unreasonable requests.

I suspect my stupid tactic is also half intended, subconsciously, as a bargaining ploy to get the person offering the task to offer me more congenial terms. It doesn’t work.

I need not to do that anymore. When someone offers me a job that I think I may not be able to handle, I need to make a counteroffer rather than accepting while trying to hedge. Even when the person making the offer says they’ll owe me one if I take it on.  (Editor’s note 2021: When that person is an employee, who then moves on before you have a chance to cash that chit in, it is vexing.)  Above and beyond only counts when you succeed.

Originally published on LiveJournal