About a year ago, I was working with a client that was undergoing some significant internal changes. I had been working with the client for quite some time and we had made really fantastic progress in our work together. However, during this internal transition, I recall one particular rough week: my deliverables were being questioned; I was asked to complete some time-intensive administrative tasks (as opposed to the strategic work for which I was commissioned); and there were communication breakdowns on their end and mine. I remember telling myself, “Don’t take it personally. There is a lot of change going on.”
Two weeks later, I was informed that they were changing their focus on other priorities and would be winding down our work together. Given their new strategic plan, it made perfect sense for them. And while I knew it wasn’t personal, I took it personally – for many reasons: I only work on projects that I inherently believe in; I’m selective when it comes to choosing clients; I’ve turned down large projects that I knew would not feed my soul; I want to help my clients have an even more positive influence than they already have; and I want to make our communities a better place, for everyone. So I was saddened by the news that we would no longer be working together.
But I was also mad. I was informed of this change by a “messenger.” And I explicitly had to ask about my future role in the work because he didn’t want to come out and say it. It was incredibly awkward, and it felt disrespectful. It wasn’t his fault, but he was the one who drew the “short straw” and had to tell me. And it made me realize that to this client, I really was just a consultant. But to me, they had been so much more than just a “client.” They had a mission that I firmly stood behind, and a vision that I wanted to help make a reality. I had gone far beyond the “scope of work” to help them move the ball forward, make outside connections, tell their story and further their impact.
I was reminded of all of this when I recently saw, “’Don’t Take it Personally’ is Terrible Work Advice,” by Duncan Coombe. I’ve always felt that it’s important to love what you do at work because we all spend too much time there everyday. And Coombe’s advice is right: this is your life. Take it – all of it – personally. But also remember: you can’t beat yourself up about it. You can’t overly introject this as a failure that is representative of your value and worth as a person. Your life and your career is not defined by this. But it’s definitely okay to be disappointed and frustrated, and to learn from it. Because it is personal.