Dear Agnes,

I’ll be frank, I work my a** off at my job. So it troubles me that I seldom see what happens after I complete and submit projects. Where did it go? How did we use it? Did it help us with a goal? Did the information get to the client?

Most of the time, I receive a mere “thanks.” reply – that’s it.

Part of me thinks the leadership at my job is so used to me getting things done (and done well) that it has now become the expectation. Another part of me thinks that maybe they lack empathy for what it takes to complete the projects. There have been times late at night when I now wish I had been doing something else (like sleeping) instead of staying up to get X, Y, or Z done for work.

I don’t have a big circle of friends or any kids, so it makes sense for me to dive into my work at this point in my career and set myself up for success. I’m a year or two into my current job, so it feels like I’m still in the “prove yourself” phase. I want to excel here, I really do – I like the work, and it’s a great company with much room for growth.

However, I don’t think this level of “grinding” is sustainable; and, I don’t want it to be.

How should I handle the next project request? 


Was it All for Nothing

Dear Was it All for Nothing,

There are two main pillars of meaning in life: work and love. What strikes me about your letter is that you are not finding great meaning in your work, and the “grind”, while it may set you up for financial success,  risks undermining your ability to develop the other more critical pillar. That pillar includes self love, and you’re correct that sacrificing sleep to keep up the grind isn’t sustainable. Self love begins with basic self care, and sleep is foundational to that. 

I think you are also correct that working your a** off can beget a vicious cycle: you act in a way that’s unloving to yourself to win approval at work, your supervisors then assume an ability to complete work during working hours that you don’t actually possess, and expectations shift to reflect how you are performing. Have you informed leadership of how many (presumably unpaid) hours you are devoting to these projects? Would you consider setting a boundary around how many additional hours you work? If you are not willing to do this now, it’s unlikely you’ll be willing to do so as you progress in your career and your level of responsibility increases.  The “prove yourself phase” can last a whole career. This is especially true if we come into our career with a pre-existing bent to perfectionism, which sounds like it may be the case for you.  And it is an especially dangerous trap for women, who take on the lion’s share of unpaid work in the world. 

It also sounds as if, in addition to undermining your sense of having made a meaningful contribution, the paucity of feedback you’re receiving is also leaving you unclear as to what a “good enough” job is.  

When it comes to handling the next request, you might ask how many hours you should devote to this project, and you might also request exactly the kind of information you’ve said you’re missing. Leadership is usually more than willing to provide information that will help people stay engaged. 

If you do see perfectionistic tendencies in yourself though, I’d also suggest that you take the really brave path, and experiment with deliberately half assing your next project. Chances are good that in an effort to impress, you may be mouse-milking: putting in a great deal of effort to bring a project from good to perfect- effort that goes well beyond the point of diminishing returns. Half ass a project (by your standards) and see what happens! You can always go back to overexertion if anybody actually notices the difference. 

In loving support,