Admit Defeat

By Jessica Albon

Admit Defeat

Original photo by Edwin Torres Photography

Whatever it is that you do, I’m guessing there’s at least one part of it that you haven’t mastered yet (or can’t/don’t intend to). Me, no matter how many times I turn to my AP Style Guide, I always, always, always overlook something. This is why we send everything to a professional proofreading team. I’m not terrible at finding (other people’s ;-)) mistakes, I’m just not great at it. Plus, it’s really stressful for me to be the one wholly responsible for finding all the mistakes.

But before I could hire a proofreading company, I had to admit being a copy editor was not in my wheelhouse.

I had to admit defeat.

This isn’t something that comes easily for most of us. We think that in order to be professionals we have to do every single part of our job, and we have to do it to a high standard.

But here’s the thing: when there’s a part of your job that you’re doing even though you suck at it, your Tribe suffers for it.

In the first place, you’re likely to attract clients who especially want you to do that thing you’re not-so-great at. So, that’s fun. Not only are you terrible at this thing, but it’s also the top priority to that new client.

(Before hiring the proofreading company, I had a client who freaked out every time there was a single typo in anything. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I could certainly empathize. But yowzas was the situation stressful for both of us!)

In the second place, doing work that’s not firmly in your Rockstar Skillset saps your interest in your work. It zaps your enthusiasm and diminishes your creativity. All because you’re playing against type and forcing yourself to do something you’re not that great at.

None of this is great for you or for your Tribe.

But here’s the thing: you don’t just get to decide to stop doing it. Sure, that works for some things. But it doesn’t work for everything (no matter how fabulous it may sound in theory).

If what you’re not so great at is something your Tribe justifiably gets to expect of you, you have two options:

  1. Flat out say you won’t do it and why (before they hire you!). Offer alternatives.
  2. Outsource it.

Either way, you’re taking responsibility for that thing that you’re not great at and finding an alternate solution. This is the true professionalism–not ignoring it and hoping it’ll go away or gritting your teeth and forcing your way through it.

Either of these options can be great for your Tribe, you just need to communicate about them clearly. Do your best not to be defensive or glib (neither really supports your Tribe). Rather, be matter-of-fact about it, be self-depreciating if you’d like, and be adult about it. You aren’t good at this, you know it’s important, and here’s how you handle it.

This is important because sometimes when we’re not good at something, we have a tendency to diminish its importance. And that’s not fair. Just because you suck at it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter!

When you take responsibility for those things you’re bad at, your Tribe will see they can trust you that much more. What’s more, if you’ve been feeling a lot of pressure to do things perfectly, admitting defeat can go a long way towards helping you be inspired by your work again.

So, today make a list of all the things you have to do as a part of what you do. Highlight anything you’re lousy at and start thinking about ways you can get those things taken care of without having to do it yourself.

For those projects you’re already knee-deep in, sometimes a renegotiation is okay. For instance, with the client who needed perfection, I suggested we outsource the proofreading for future projects and asked her if she’d be okay with the additional cost. She decided that was well worth it to her and it made our working relationship much easier.

What’s more, sometimes getting the support you need won’t cost more (or much more). For instance, a client whose monthly newsletter I edit was hating searching out her own photos for each issue. I was able to do it for her for about the same price she’d been paying in licensing fees.

So, go forth and Admit Defeat!