12 September 2007

Bad habit: sainthood

Advance apologies for any offense to my saint-revering Christian readers. In my [non]defense: I knew it was wrong.

Everywhere I’ve been in the tech sector, I’ve been told that the rock stars of the field are the ones who go so far beyond what’s expected that it looks like they are able to perform miracles. The bigger the pond I’m in, the bigger the expected miracle. So if you really want to be that star performer, rake in the Big Bonus and get promoted once every other year, skipping a pay grade every other promotion until you are right up there with the top brass of middle management, then you’d best get your miracle on.

Except it’s a terrible idea.


The project careens and careers toward unmitigated disaster and miraculously your climax-of-Spice-World*-like intervention saves the day. Cue applause and cheers (if you’re lucky). But your first miracle may be a fluke. The venerable candidate of office sainthood shall be investigated thoroughly in the postmortem [jargon, deliciously appropriate jargon]. Further miracles pending review, your current efforts are venerated; thou art a good dude to have on the team.

Phew – Your first miracle might be a fluke! Hopefully you didn’t put yourself out to make the miracle happen, hopefully it is just a fluke.


Your works continue to be reviewed and it is seen that they are mighty and that you are blesséd in the eyes of the office. Your services and participation will assuredly be in high demand. Now, we don’t want you bored or lacking in challenge and, as you are such a very high performer, we are certain that you don’t want that either. Well then, what could be less boring and more challenging than being asked to work another miracle? Here, take this miserable derelict charred hulk of a product and make it the next Furby or Tickle Me Elmo or Pokémon. As thy many blessings are shewn, so shall thy work pile be increased.

Gasp – The inverse of once bitten twice shy is going on now. Are you a lucky rabbit’s foot or maybe, just maybe, you can pull the whole rabbit out of your hat whenever you want. Maybe you can be depended on to work miracles. Let’s find out, shall we?


Third time’s the charm. Working three miracles means you’ve just established miraculous job performance as a routine. A standard has been set. Hopefully just for you, but maybe for your whole team. I won’t be getting that sweet 20% bonus you’re getting for performing at 400%.˚˚ Shucks. Some people are just geniuses, I guess. Some people really know how to hit the home runs. I’ll just have to make do with my base hits. After all, I’ve got this family and these hobbies and those friends, and they all take up so much of my free time. But you? You’ve got my admiration and that sexy title on your business card and a bit more cash on hand.

Shudder – “Congratulations” on your beatification. Saints have a special relationship with god, and that’s got to be one of the most rewarding experiences possible. Oh, wait though. You’re not a saint, hangin’ with el hefe J and playing bocce with angels. You’re a smoke-jumping wildcard talent or a nose to the grindstone obsessive. Probably both.

Could we sharpen and hone that talent and get you onto a saner and predictable schedule? Because you’ve disrupted the way the company operates with your productive mania. Most companies will be all too happy to be disrupted in this way. But now the company needs you to churn out miracles. It needs it, but it probably doesn’t even know that it’s become dependent – it just takes your golden eggs for granted. Your workmates also come to depend on your Herculean efforts. And maybe they resent you for it too. But also, maybe no one at all really appreciates or understands your ability and potential. Maybe success is assumed and you’ll go the distance to get us all there instead of letting the reasonable failure come about from launching out on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. You make even the most harebrained schemes possible. When you’re gone (you’ve probably imploded), your reckless and imprudent bosses will expect your coworkers to pick up the slack. They might even think they can. Sometimes a bad project or idea or boss or team has got to hit bottom before a happy ending can come about.

You don’t actually need to be officially canonized – informal habitual sainthood is just as bad as the recognized variety. At least try not to get caught personally performing your miracles. Here's my last bit of well-meaning hyperbole, because I like you – we should hang out more. Soon. Because you don't have a lot of time left. Saints technically need to be dead. Don’t worry, you’ll be dead soon enough. Dead tired, dead to the world, looking like death warmed over. Until one of the big four stress-induced killers actually does shuffle you off.

* I'll tell you what, if it’s good enough for Stephen Fry and Elvis Costello, then it’s well good enough for me.
˚˚ You get paid $100,000 a year and perform at 400%. You get a 20% bonus of $20,000. My question, if I were you, would be “could I have the other three years’ worth of salary instead for performing adequately as four people? Because while I like $20,000 and the prestige of getting a juicy merit-based bonus, last I checked, $300,000 is (A) fifteen times as much as $20,000 and (B) a great heaping gob of money.”


Mike "Pie is a Food not a Number" Tanner said...

This is why my motto is "the bare minimum."

Josiah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josiah said...

I enjoy working 'miracles' at work.

Of course, I also like asserting that I am not to be called upon to work magic. Sometimes I have to re-assert my position by leaving some work uncommitted and incomplete when I go home for the day; I'm fine with that. They would need to compensate me accordingly if they wanted 24/7 support.

So, I do love 'doing the impossible' but I surely don't allow them to take me for granted.

EGV said...

I like being able to do the impossible. I like achieving lofty goals and burying expectations since I blew past them. But once it's routinized as something that you do as a matter of course, then mighty efforts no longer appear to be that mighty.

I'm mainly saying that high performance is what to shoot for and the occasional unreasonably high performance moment is terrific. Creating (or even really just allowing) the circumstances whereby it is easy to expect unreasonably high performance is unwise for everyone.