Something about today’s world screams at us, daily, to step up. Step up to the next challenge. Step up against your fears. Step up every chance you get, as often as you can. Unfortunately the truth is, the best thing to do isn’t always to step up–sometimes there is power in stepping down.
Over the past few years at SEOmoz, I have taken every possible chance I could to step up. Is there a new challenge that needs to be faced? Is there a new team that needs help? Is there a new area to be learned? Let me, let me, let me. I’m not going to lie – these “steps up” into unchartered territory have been exciting, at times draining, but always a great thing. So why am I advocating a different approach?
What do I mean by “stepping down?” I mean it more conceptually, like when you pass on an opportunity, or suggest someone else for something. Perhaps it means you hand off a project, or pivot into something else. Ultimately, I think “stepping down” has somehow become “any time you don’t step up.” The dilemma in today’s workplace culture is that “stepping down” is not well received. Assumptions on inadequacies, or laziness creep in. The real crazy part is, it’s usually our own assumptions or fears, and not really those of our coworkers or bosses.
Because today is so damn competitive, particularly in tech and startups, we have all convinced ourselves to say “yes” to every opportunity, every open door, every chance. The problem with that is…sometimes we should be saying no.
So what does “stepping down” really mean? It means you trust others when you should. It means you have learned to delegate when appropriate. It means you have found some sort of balance in what you do best, and what you do well. For me, when I step down from opportunities, I find pride in knowing just how much I can handle – and still deliver to my standards. I also think by embracing the power that comes in stepping down, I have become more sure of what I bring to the table. I am so much clearer on those times I really should be stepping up.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, especially in this industry, where your worth is often measured by your ability to juggle one million things at once. I know it seems counter to what we all believe, but try it…just once. The next time someone comes to you and asks you to do something outside your wheel house, don’t immediately say yes. Think about the opportunity. Are you best for it? Is there a more efficient and obvious option? Is this where you can serve the company and your teammates best?
Trust me when I say the answers to those questions might surprise you. Take it from a (cough) (cough) near 30-year veteran of perfectionism…it is easier to be your best you if you choose more intentionally what you choose to step up into, and what you choose to step down from. There is a power in knowing when to do which. Or at least for me there has been. Oh yeah…and there is a bit more sanity in knowing when to do which too…a tiny bit more at least.
Best of luck to you friends, keep fighting the good fight.