Are You Indispensable? Not Really.

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Indispensability sounds wonderful. Doesn’t it?   The other day, I picked  up Godin’s book, Linchpin. It had been sitting in a “to read pile” for about a year now, so I thought it might be time.  I opened the book, and the flap said:

“There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there is a third team, the linchpins. These people invent, lead, connect others, make things happen and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.  They delight and challenged their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Sounds wonderful.  Sounds impossible.

How many people are truly indispensable?  These stories sound great.  Are we setting the bar so high that most of us just sigh at the thought of trying to turn every day into art? Are these unattainable goals for most of us that merely create envy or depression at the though of our rather normal jobs?

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that all of us need to have passion about what we do.  But every job has its “crappy stuff”.  Every professor I know hates marking papers and exams. It’s just not fun.  There is absolutely no reward, and usually lots of punishment in the form of line ups of complaining students. 

Several years ago, researchers looked at the happiness of men who attended the Harvard Business School in the 1930s, and followed them for over seventy years. What did they find?  A great range of happiness.  What predicted their happiness?  Not money, or status or a nice wife or even a nice home.  The best predictor of happiness was lower expectations.  Lower expectations lead to less likelihood of disappointment.

Our jobs don’t need to be the be all and end all of our lives.  While they can be fulfilling, they are not the only path to fulfillment.  So I say, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. You don’t have to be indispensable in order to be effective in a workplace.  Do your best, be conscientious and consistent, be engaged. We can all make a difference, but none of us are truly indispensable (at least at work).

4 replies »

  1. I would think that if you were in your right mind you wouldn’t want to be indispensable (anywhere)! It eventually leads to burn out, whether job, home or volunteering. Typical cycle can run: New job where you do your best and you produce; you’re noticed and you receive a project that you are responsible for and you do your best and you produce as the creative challenge makes the adrenalin run high; you’re asked to do the same with project “O” while maintaining your first project and you shine; Others come to you for your expertise and you can’t say no because you have become “Obligated”. You are now “Indispensable/Obligated”.
    “Obligation” – definition – “Believing you need to take on someone else’s responsibility to make sure it is done right (your way)”. That someone else just made sure that you know your way is the best way. Within time the load can kill you or at least damage your health to a point where you become Dispensable. Surprise! You need to know the difference between responsibility and obligation.
    Remaining happy may have something to do with lower expectations though I figure it has to do with different expectations. In simple terms, my expectations for myself are always high and my expectations of others run at zero – plus or minus .000001%. If others help the cause I am pleasantly surprised and if others fail the cause I’m never disappointed. After all, aren’t you supposed to be setting up your life for YOU? Do it for you and forget what other people think of you. It’s none of your business.

  2. Interesting post Colleen,
    While I was reading your post I thought: “I disagree” but then I waited a moment and…
    1. “Lower expectations lead to less likelihood of disappointment.” – but is that means that it makes us happy? If we are aware of setting lower expectations even though knowing that we can do more/better – how we will feel?
    2. “Do your best, be conscientious and consistent, be engaged. We can all make a difference, but none of us are truly indispensable (at least at work).” – I think that nobody is “indispensable” – we can find replacement (sometimes it won’t be easy but it’s possible).

    I believe that we should try to be “indispensable” = do our best, be engaged, etc. but at the same time be aware that we are NOT “indispensable” 🙂

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