I suffer from shiny object syndrome (SOS). If you’ve never run into this before it’s the desire to attain, or do, something for which you have a passion but may be “too much” for what’s needed. It’s also usually something attainable in the short-to-medium term (which is what drives the impulse to make it ALL happen).
At work shiny-object syndrome looks like this: your boss, or your team, discusses a problem and as it unfolds you can see exactly how to design and implement an amazing solution. Yes, I know I’ve just described what you’re paid to do every day, but here’s the problematic part. You can see what to do and how to do it without the constraints of time and budget. And it’s innovative. It’s creative. It’s ground-breaking. It may be the most complete and useful solution you’ve designed to date!
And that’s the shiny part. It’s also the part that can keep you from being relevant in your work. When you get ignited by ideas and opportunities that are right in your “wheel house” (professionally speaking), you imprint that complete and perfect version of the solution, but pursuing that version without qualifying it first is a little bit like marrying a complete stranger off the street.
While it’s great to explore “best practice” solutions, something to consider is that it may not be what your team, or organization, really needs right now. The time and effort needed to make it happen is always far more then you initially plan for – especially because the solution came to you so quickly (so how much time could this take?). Yes, in the fullness of time that may be exactly what your organization needs, but for now they may just need a part, a sliver… a start.
I’ll use myself as an example. In my former life as an HR professional, I was asked to help my organization come up with a way to more consistently give back to our local community AND create opportunities for employee fun at work. This is all stuff I am wildly passionate about, so with that nugget, off I went. I spent an entire weekend crafting a presentation, and calendar of events, for raising money and awareness for various causes in our community. I made sure I researched many diverse “doable” fun activities that employees would like (without affecting productivity). I then spent a whole week (in the evenings) honing this complete offering to perfection. It was a thing of beauty. And no one but me ever saw it.
I didn’t even have a chance to present it before the organization I was working for became consumed by a merger, and this initiative died before it had a chance to live. I understood our priorities had changed, but I was also devastated.
And here’s the worst part. If I’d gone back with an idea for 1 activity to get us started, that would have been approved before the merger madness took over. We would have given back AND had some fun AND I would’ve had a proof point that this type of investment was worth doing (and possible) EVEN when we were busy.
But none of that happened. What did happen was I didn’t deliver and the time I could have spent with my family was instead focused on work. Time I’ll never have back. Fortunately, I didn’t miss any major family milestones, looking back though I’m not sure that would have mattered as I was so consumed with delivering a gold-plated offering (see, shiny).
What I now know I should have done was qualify what was needed (1 event, as a pilot). That would have put something out into the organization as a proof point, and was achievable inside my working hours (not over a whole weekend, or an entire week of evenings).
A shiny-object syndrome (SOS) passion-project every now and again won’t harm you - your family might if you miss something important because you’re abandoning them to work on the weekends. But when you’re passionate about what you do, it’s never just one SOS, it’s a series of shiny objects upheld by a mindset of perfectionism, or service, or excitement to see it all come to life! AND that level of over-commitment creates the conditions for burnout and its associated harmful health impacts to your health and career.
What this asks of you (if you’re a fellow SOS’er like me), is to remember to ask some strong questions before blindly marrying that great idea.
Sometimes we set ourselves up for over-work when we’re not paying attention to what really matters – but it feels so good because the ideas and possibilities are so freaking cool. Yet, your health and wellbeing really matter, and shiny object or not your work/life boundaries need to be respected first and foremost by you, no one else can respect them for you. Check in and see if you’re getting carried away by SOSs. Then take the steps you need to qualify what’s being asked of you so it fits into your working day, benefits your organization and ultimately your career.
You can always work on the passion projects, but in slices, over time, responsibly – with no harm done.
Carleen opened up an entire world that I never knew existed. She helped me see how important it is to live and work while fulfilling every part of what makes you your own person."