I’ve Made Myself Invaluable at Work, How do I Reverse It?

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

I take pride in doing my job to the best of my abilities and delivering as much value as I can. Unfortunately, I have made a terrible mistake.

My dad tricked me into my job. I’d given my two week’s notice at a job I was miserable at and was applying for everything that looked even remotely interesting. On the phone with my dad, he asked me to come and work for him as an assistant. He told me that I just needed to follow him to meetings, take notes and manage his schedule. This was pretty similar to my previous jobs and I’d worked in the office of my parent’s company for as long as I could be trusted to reliably file papers. So I readily accepted.

I was his assistant for less than 24 hours after accepting. He promptly sent me a list of safety courses and told me that I was to be the new site safety person. Ok, I thought naively to myself, I can handle this. Shortly after receiving my Health and Safety Administrator certificate, I was tasked with putting together the paperwork for a pending bid. This lead to late-night research and taking project management courses in order to understand the terminology and requirements. Project management was interesting until we won the bid and I found myself learning how to actually manage a project. Then it was terrifying.

It has been over six years since I accepted the offer and I am scheduled to write my Project Management Professional exam at the end of next month. I’d planned on writing it this weekend but the whole Recreational Organ Removal kind of got in the way. Technically my job title is Operations Manager but I function as our project manager, estimator, salesperson, backup safety and the entire HR department. There are very few things that I don’t have my fingers in with the exception of actual electrical installation.

On the bright side, my job security is fairly concrete. I was asked this morning “who is you when you’re not there” and I had to answer with “nobody”. There is no one to step into my shoes when I am away and that has become a blatantly obvious problem. Humans are fallible by nature. We take vacations, get sick, get married, have babies, or occasionally decide to give away an internal organ to a stranger and need to spend three weeks recovering.

When you donate a kidney, they tell you to be prepared to take off 4–6 weeks from work to allow for a proper recovery. I was back part-time the day after surgery and am almost full-time three weeks in. Allow me to save you the trouble of finding out yourself; this is a very bad idea. I hurt and my remaining kidney is infected with something that was resistant to the first bout of antibiotics. There is nothing I would rather be doing than resting in bed and taking leisurely walks. Alas, reality intervened and responsibility beckoned. But even with me answering emails and phone calls daily, my absence created a void that was quickly filled with chaos. Questions went unanswered, paperwork unfiled and shoulders went un-cried upon.

This was an important lesson not only for me but for the company as a whole. I need to be better at delegating and sharing knowledge and my colleagues need to be better at receiving this knowledge. The concept of “not my job” needs to be banished entirely in order to make space for a cohesive structure. I want to develop an organization where everyone recognizes the tasks that are required and chips in to complete them in an orderly fashion. I haven’t quite figured out how yet, but this is the goal.

Work-life balance is critical not only for the well-being of workers but also for the well-being of the overall organization. A system that depends entirely on a single component to function is not a healthy one. And I would like a real vacation at some point.

Crazy dog mom, mental health advocate, project manager and writer

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