Are You Letting “But” Undermine You Professionally?

Writing isn’t easy for me, but I do it nonetheless because I hope to make the search for work and execution of your job easier. Though I know and have known some success in my professional life I am, like you, a work in progress. Exactly how much in progress can come up all too suddenly. 

Are you letting butCase in point, on a recent Sunday I was having a conversation with a friend who called to wish me a Happy Birthday. After a few simple questions about what I was doing for my birthday weekend he proceeded to ask me about updates about my life.

I talked about my family, some recent travel, and then mentioned that I had started publishing work writing about careers for the Washington Post Jobs. They responded that this was “an amazing achievement.”

And then I said:  

Sure, but it only appears on the website.”

And I immediately recognized I had managed to diminish myself with that but, and it was a bit like watching the accident happen in slow motion. I bring this up because I too am a work in progress, and I want to share a few really simple take-aways from that phone call.

Some of our nagging problems are frequent visitors

Persistent problems are diamond medallion frequent flyers and everyone I know has one. They can have any title CEO. Founder. Coach. XXXX Award Winner. They are struggling to work through something and there is at least one issue that comes in waves. Sometimes the issue is in emotional remission. Other times it is taking up a good deal of room in their head. 

I spoke with someone earlier today who expressed the common notion that they should know what they want to do in life by now. I can tell you with certainty that I have had that conversation with people of every age from high school juniors to folks in their mid-sixties. These things show up and you can’t always predict when.

Seconds after the words escaped my mouth, I was shaking my head. 

Learning to be gracious when people express appreciation

No one is the accomplishments police. Ok, maybe the folks vetting White House appointments. But the overwhelming majority of your friends, colleagues and strangers aren’t looking to challenge you; rather they seek to affirm, and perhaps thank you, for your work. 

I regularly receive thank-you from people for my role in the founding of For several years I would awkwardly respond to that praise with thank you, but I always felt that we could have done so much more if …… at which time that person would look at me with the expression of someone who had been trying to be nice and now just wanted to get away. I’ve learned to limit myself to something like thank you that’s so kind or I’m so glad it helped

That “But” undermines what you think you deserve or have earned

That but, whether it is spoken aloud, or is part of the conversation you are having in your head, is one of our great underminers. It is the crack in your professional foundation that leads to your not feeling accomplished enough to apply for that job, promotion, or fellowship. It waters down how you write your resume or answer interview questions. For most of us, no one else is lining up for the lead role of being your champion without you showing the drive and an ability to share your best self. 

If but is taking up space in your life here are a few ways to shine a light on it that I’ve seen work really well. 

Master Resume. Create an exhausting list of your professional accomplishments for your own use. (Hint: It will help you in creating future external resumes, too) Think of it like an Academic Resume or CV. Input as much detail as you have about everything you’ve done with as much focus on the #s (scale) and why those #s mattered (impact) as you can. It is harder to negate who you have been & currently are when it is listed in minute detail.   

Gather Feedback. Reach out to 5-10 professional peers who meet most closely at the intersection of “you trust them” and “you respect their opinion.” Ask them some questions about the value you bring in a professional setting? What makes you amazing? Keep that document on your desktop and apply as needed.

If a Friend. This is so simple but works astonishingly well as a way to reframe things. Place one of the friends that you trust and respect most in the same situation. What would you say to them? There hasn’t been a single time when I’ve done this that the person doing this doesn’t see how unkind they have been to themselves.  

Now stop letting that brilliant brain of yours get in the way of your doing all the things. 

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021. 


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