Whole New Ballgame

Just when you learn how to play, the game changes

In both life and career, your first job is to do what you’re told. 

As a young child, once you’re old enough to take instruction at all, the main expectation of you is that you follow orders. Finish your plate, clean up your toys, don’t run into traffic. When you land your first part-time gig, the expectation is similar. Push this button, follow this script, ask if they’d like fries with that.

Why is it like this? Easy. Because you don’t know any better.

When you start out, you can’t really be trusted to think for yourself. You don’t have enough experience to draw upon, so whatever ideas you might have are probably worse than those of the people giving you direction. 

Best-case scenario, you do an exceptional job of carrying out other people’s orders. And actually, that’s all it really takes to ‘crush it’ in those early stages of personal development. Get good grades, do the hell out of whatever the boss asks you to do -- and get rewarded handsomely on all fronts.

But then at some point, a funny thing happens… it stops working.

Doing a great job in the order-taking stages of life leads you into new stages, where the game changes completely. In life, you reach Adulthood -- that big scary place where no one’s there to offer step-by-step instructions. And in career, you start to be given more responsibility, which also means less direction from others. In these new worlds, you succeed not by doing what you’re told, but by being able to figure things out for yourself.

This shift from execution mode to strategy mode can be disorienting, even (or especially?) for high-achievers. Nobody sits you down and tells you that the game is changing, so those who carry on playing like they always have -- looking to others, eager to please -- often end up having a rough go. Once upon a time you got rewarded for doing what you’re told; now you suffer for needing to be told.

Learning how to ‘adult’ (verb) and getting stronger as a professional both involve learning how to make the decisions that were once made for you. Failing to recognize this leads to many teacher’s-pet types being frustrated when the tools that got them to where they are stop working.

So don’t be surprised when, at some point, doing a great job stops being good enough. It probably means you’re on the right track -- or at least, you were... and now it’s time to start laying your own.