Thursday, October 20, 2005

Public Enemy #1: Believing Your Own Press

In recent days, I’ve had several experiences with current clients, former consultants, and one complete stranger that have led me to ruminate on the very real dangers of believing one’s own press, and the resultant ego trip that accompanies the practice.

In a nutshell, a good, healthy dose of humility never hurt anyone. I’m not talking about the “aw, shucks,” groundkicking that people do when someone gives them a compliment, and they don’t know how to accept it graciously. If you’ve done something well, don’t pretend you didn’t when someone mentions it. Say, “Thank you,” and move on.

No – I’m talking about the pervasive, persuasive (but ultimately flawed) belief that if you can do a thing or two well, then you can do all things well – and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is Not Your Friend.

(You might think that this blog is about to take a political bent. It would be SO easy to go down that road. But no.)

I’ll begin with The Stranger. I was mucking about online at some ridiculous time early in the morning, trying to wind down before going to sleep, and stumbled across a blog that was well-written enough to keep me reading a bit.

In it, a guy half a century old goes on and on about how he’s lost the love of his life because they live in different states. He won’t move for her, she won’t move for him, so never the twain shall meet. So he’s stuck – stuck! – with this woman he’s “not in love with, but the sex is good.” He says he likes her body well enough, “but her face just doesn’t do it” for him. (Made me wonder what his face did for her…) He repeatedly whines about feeling that he’s settling for her. Then he proceeds to list all of her faults, namely, she used to smoke (which means she might again), and she doesn’t go to church. Ah, but HE’s a paragon of Christian excellence.

Believing his own press. Not terribly attractive stuff in one’s personal life. Downright dangerous in the professional world. And it’s rampant.

Take this current book edit, for instance. Not only does the person who wrote the manuscript believe that he is God’s Gift to his field, shamelessly name-dropping and bet-you-wish-you-were-me-ing throughout the text, but he refuses to acknowledge that a.) he cannot write well enough for his book to go to print un-edited and b.) he must be available to provide the missing information in order for the project to progress any further.

His inability to respond to phone calls or e-mails has already stretched the project out a month longer than necessary. And there is no end in sight. Both the publisher and I have been reduced to hounding him via e-mail and multiple phone messages daily. We’re getting excuses from people who know him (everything from attention deficit disorder to house renovations), but at the heart of the matter, he just doesn’t think we’re important enough for him to respond to. He believes his own press.

Another example – I’m currently working on a dictated project that I am to scrupulously transcribe. No editing of any kind is welcome, other than making sure that all words are spelled correctly. No grammar check. No vetting for agreement, tense, or usage. No juggling of text for clarity. Absolutely no political correctness.

It was unexpectedly difficult at first, because I was unconsciously correcting the text as I typed. Now I just grit my teeth as each error splats onto the printed page, and plow forward.

In today’s hyper-critical world, the more successful you become, the more you must find qualified, competent people that you trust who have talents you don’t have, and who can present you in the most positive light possible. Unfortunately, success often brings with it a sense of superiority. A “master of my own destiny” mindset, if you will.

No man is an island, remember. No one can “do it all.” That’s part of the fun of success – it allows you to expand your network of knowledgeable acquaintances whose talents and strengths can balance and compliment your own.

If I find myself thinking that I’m all that and a bag of chips, I know that I have any number of friends and relations who will happily set me straight. See to it that you do, too. Ultimately, you will realize that you are not the only one who wants to see you succeed. When you surround yourself with capable, talented people and let them do their jobs, your continued success will only elevate those who helped you get to the top… and who will help you stay there.