You ready? Step one:
Stop Acting Like a Jerk
“I do not act like a jerk. I am a very nice person!”
Was that your response to that heading? Well you probably are a very nice person. But you may still act like a jerk. Acting like a jerk is easier than you think and it’s a condition that both Lazy and Busy People are likely to suffer from.
Do you ever feel as though no matter how much you give, people still want more?
“But I worked so hard cleaning up the kitchen this morning, I DESERVE to relax for one afternoon!” Really? Maybe that’s true. But why was the work so hard, O Lazy One? Was it because you were doing an extra thorough job (skirting boards, windows, under the fridge) after a big cooking event like a party? Or was it because you left the dirty dishes for almost a week and hadn’t mopped the floor since January?
Guess what? Other people won’t reward you for completing a difficult job, when you are the reason it was difficult.
Do you ever feel as though people don’t appreciate your efforts?
“But I always work later than everybody else! I don’t DESERVE to be hassled about one late report!” Possibly that’s the case. But why do you stay later, O Busybody? Do you have too many tasks to complete during your working hours (despite everyone else managing just fine)? Or do you spend hours on pointless activities with no aim in mind? Activities like creating seminars with no learning outcomes? Writing 1000 word emails to colleagues, when one line with a link would have sufficed? Spending two hours smearing a grubby cloth over every window, so that someone now has to re-polish EVERY-SINGLE-PANE?
Guess what? Other people won’t credit you for work they can’t see the relevance of. Especially if you haven’t completed work they do see as relevant.
Perhaps you feel as though people aren’t trying to understand the real you?
“But I’m a good person. I shower every day, remember my mother’s birthday and feel really bad about third world problems. I DESERVE to have people like me/sleep with me/talk to me at parties.”
This one could be Lazy or Busy, but either way, guess what? Other people won’t credit you for your virtues until they’ve seen some evidence.
If you are someone who tends to think about what you deserve, there are two things you need to know. The first is that “just one” never means just one, and the person you are talking to knows it, even if you don’t.
The second is that you are acting like a jerk.
I’m… I’m what?
It’s okay. Acting like a jerk doesn’t mean you ARE a jerk. It just means that you’ve been a bit too focused on yourself up to now. Don’t feel bad about it; you didn’t know any better and from here on in, we’re going to work on that. Okay? Deep breath.
Not acting like a jerk: 101
Basically, not acting like a jerk means accepting and fulfilling your responsibilities; including your responsibilities to yourself. This is the first step toward awesomeness, but unfortunately, it’s not a fast or easy one.
To accept your responsibilities you first have to work out what they are. And that can be hard. It can be especially hard to dissociate responsibilities from the tasks you need to complete to fulfill them.
For example: You may have the personal responsibility of making certain that your clothes are clean. You can achieve this in several different ways. You could:
- Keep a limited wardrobe and do your washing every couple of days
- Purchase a more extensive wardrobe and do your washing once a week
- Keep a limited wardrobe and go to extra lengths to keep your clothing fresh
- Arrange a washing service to pick up your dirty clothing and deliver it after washing
You get the idea? I’m sure you could come up with even more ways to discharge this responsibility, depending on time, disposable income and personal inclination. In each case, though, the task you complete (washing your clothing, calling the washing service, buying new clothes) is not your final responsibility. It is merely the means to fulfill it. And that brings us to the next (possibly most important) point:
Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.
Actually, that isn’t 100% correct. Effort is very important in terms of your personal development. But the key word there is personal. It is unfair to expect other people to give you credit for effort the effort you put in, if the results they see are unsatisfactory.
That is why no-one is impressed with you for organizing the stationary drawer, even if it did take you two hours. No one asked for that. What they did ask for was for you to serve customers and wipe the sink in the break room. Which you didn’t do. Because you were expending so much effort on something else.
Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.
That’s also why your housemates still want you to wash the dishes, even after you’ve spent the entire day finally cleaning your crap out of the living room. The mess was yours. You have now cleaned it. Congratulations. You have now achieved the state that the room would have been in had you never entered it. You are NOT in positive credits for that. You are not even at neutral, since they had to live in your mess for a week. The net result of you living in that house is still a negative one, even if today’s cleaning did take a lot of effort.
Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.
Okay, those two were pretty extreme examples. But if you are someone who tends to feel unappreciated, overworked or misunderstood (remember the first three examples?) then I’m afraid it is quite possible that you are actually the one acting like a jerk.
Turning effort into result
This is why you need to negotiate your responsibilities, with yourself and with those around you; spouses, colleagues, parents, whoever. Not specific tasks (e.g. Put away the magazines) but responsibilities (e.g. Keep the coffee table clear). If you make it clear that you are negotiating on that basis, people are much more likely to leave you to complete tasks in your own way.
This makes it easier for you to set conditions (e.g. I will wash only those dishes which have been properly scraped and rinsed) and delegate tasks (I will grow sufficient potatoes for household consumption, if you deliver two loads of cow manure to the back yard every winter). This also makes it easier to say “No,” to new responsibilities that others may want you to take on, as well as protest when another person does not fulfill their own.
These discussions are not a one-off event (particularly the ones you have with yourself). As well as negotiating new responsibilities, you will sometimes need to renegotiate or discard old ones (e.g. I used to make your lunch, but you’re seventeen now. Make your bloody own.). And yes, there will be times when you’re unable to fulfill all of your responsibilities. So long as we take it one day at a time, and develop a long enough history of good results (rather than just “doing our best”), people will excuse our off days.
But what do I get?
“You’ve told me how to make other people happy, Gem. But what’s my reward?”
You know you deserve a kicking just for asking that, right? But I guess you need to know. Your reward will actually be 100% selfish and, I guarantee, the best thing ever.
Your reward will be getting what you want.
If you’re a Lazy Person? No more guilt. Ever again. No shame, no avoiding people. And you’ll never be afraid to ask other people for things because you will know that you’ve earned them.
For the Busy? No more stress. Appreciation of your efforts, rather than work piled on work, without getting ahead. No more sudden demands that seem to come out of nowhere.
Not being a jerk is a difficult road. But it’s the only one that, in the long term, will actually let you have what you want. Remember, jerks think about what they deserve. Awesome people think about what they can achieve. If your goal is a free afternoon to spend drinking tea and eating biscuits, stop worrying about how much you deserve it. Start thinking about what you need to do to get it.
I’ll put the kettle on!