Have you ever done something, like given a talk or taken on a project that wasn’t technical in nature, and you felt like you did an awesome job working on it, then someone says, “Oh I only give technical talks…” Or asks you a leading question like, “Why didn’t you just build an app instead?”
It makes you question yourself…
Well, that’s exactly how one of my mentees Lee felt recently!
Lee wrote the following email to me recently:
I was invited to keynote a conference a week ago. It was my first time keynoting, so I was, of course nervous, but also really excited!
I followed your advice and spoke to the organizer to come up with a topic. We agreed that since the conference was highly technical the keynote should cover a different space that many of us struggle with.
I decided to talk about the importance of onboarding employees both junior or senior folks, gave examples of how my startup does it, and how it ultimately impacts team morale, the quality of our product, and culture of our company.
I also followed your formula of handling objections and debunking myths and misconceptions, because I figured I’d have a tough crowd on my hands.
After my talk, a lot of people came up to me, asked me questions, and said they enjoyed my talk. Even the organizer said it was a hit!
Then at lunch, I was seated next to a person, who leaned over and said, “Sorry I didn’t attend your keynote. I was busy prepping for mine. I noticed you talked about onboarding employees. Why didn’t you give a technical talk? I only give technical talks, because I don’t want to be perceived as soft.”
At the moment, I lost my appetite, and all the impostor syndrome that I had been battling for weeks rose up within me.
I felt like they were judging me for my talk without even seeing it!
The Pride in Putting Down The Others Work
Sadly, I too come across people like this a lot. People who ask me, “Why aren’t you building a software product?” Or, tell me that I should be giving more technical talks.
For some reason it’s not enough for them to be happy with their work. They feel the need to go the extra mile and derive a sense of satisfaction from judging or putting the work of others down as soft or somehow not as “hardcore” as theirs. Or sometimes they don’t realize the weight of their words!
And yes in the moment it can be painful and trigger the impostor in you. It makes you question why you decided to do the work at all. When that happens, you need immediately recall the reasons why you chose the work you did.
Because there was a P-R-O-B-L-E-M.
And so what if the problem you chose to tackle wasn’t one that was technical in nature or your solution isn’t technical?
It’s still a problem and worth solving, right?
And I know that it’s probably best to just walk away from such people. But I also believe that sometimes good people are misinformed or may lack self-awareness, so there’s no harm in taking the time to educate them a little.
My response is to usually highlight the impact I’m making with such work, and using Lee’s example of giving a talk on employee onboarding, I’d respond with something like:
“I understand if you didn’t have time to attend my talk. The reason I gave it is because onboarding employees is one of the most significant processes a company can invest it early on.
It determines how productive a recent hire will be, the impact they’ll make, how quickly they’ll feel connected to their new team, and it’s been known to influence employee turnover.
Given we’re in a war for talent, and it’s hard to hire and retain employees, I’ve experienced this problem personally and figured others may have as well. Hence I decided to speak and share my learnings.
In general, what matters most to me is how much the topic resonates with the audience.”
It doesn’t matter what their follow up response is.
The reason you’re saying this response out loud is actually not for the other person, it’s for YOU.
When you say it out loud, you realize the impact of the problem you’re solving, and you realize the importance of the work you’re done.
That’s all the matters.
Density and Size Doesn’t Determine The Value of Work
To sum it up, my response is pretty much the same: I love what I do and other people seem to love it too, and it’s fulfilling to make an impact on the world no matter how big or small it is.
Don’t let the judgment of others steer you away from doing the work you want to do. Know that you’ll continue to face judgment but you’ll get stronger, as one or my readers, John, mentions in point #5 of this post.
Letting their judgment seep in doesn’t just deter you from doing the work you believe in, but it also steals from the people who would have benefited from your work!
Believe in the work you do. Believe that any impact big or small is worth it. And believe that there will be someone to receive and value it. And be OK knowing that it won’t always please everyone nor does it have to, to be worth the time and effort.
Have you been in a situation similar? Help Lee out by recommending what you did. Please let us know in the comments below!