“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”
Beyond your basic responsibilities, there are probably one hundred-thousand unsolved problems at your place of work. Linger too long around the water cooler, and you might be invited to help solve one of them. And while being recognized as a savior is flattering, it may also be a slippery slope into an unflushable toilet. Not every invitation merits a réponse, s’il vous plaît. Don’t get sucked into the vortex.
One problem with Other People’s Problems is how they tend to stick to other problems—that you understand even less. It’s what Gordon Mackenzie describes as a “giant hairball” in his must-read book for any creative person trapped in a corporate labyrinth.
You think it’s altruism coaxing you into that gaping morass? Heed my hairdresser’s brutal riposte when I once admitted an inability to walk by a mirror without inspecting it: “That’s vanity, honey.” It may feel like every problem in the company is waiting for you to come along and sweep it off its feet, but it’s your own footing you should be worried about.
Besides when you spread yourself thin, you become worse at everything else (Be careful what you get good at).
In those Marvel movies, the protagonists tend to focus on the one big important problem they’re good at solving. You don’t see The Hulk in back-to-back Zoom calls while simultaneously scrambling to read out-of-date vision decks.
When confronted with a giant hairball, Mackenzie describes three potential paths:
On the peaceful path, You can say “nah” to extra helpings of complexity (Because Complication accelerates knowledge loss). You can pitch just enough solutions (Make it edible). You can gleefully aim for the middle mountain (All endeavor requires compromise. You offer support with boundaries. This is the way.
Sure, one hundred thousand other problems will always need solving. Yes, their neglect is sad. But you can’t adopt every stray puppy if you want clean carpets, and you can’t swirl around in Other People’s Problems if you want inner peace.