It was 1:30 in the morning, and I was exhausted and bleary-eyed in front of my laptop trying to crank out a presentation to pitch a new idea to the marketing team. I was presenting an initiative I was incredibly passionate about. And, my supervisor had let me know that—if I could put together a solid spiel explaining my reasoning—he’d actually consider implementing it.
It was my baby. So, needless to say, I spent countless hours and seemingly endless late nights obsessing over every last little detail. This particular night, I was on my fourth cup of coffee—and, to illustrate how dire those circumstances really were, I’ll let you in on the little secret that I don’t even like coffee. But, my presentation was the next day, and I wanted to make sure I had everything in order.
The following afternoon, I had everything set up in the conference room and was ready to share my ideas with my team. But, before launching into those slides I had worked tirelessly on for the past week, I started by saying, “Just so you know, this is a little bit of a mess because I whipped this together pretty fast.”
Wait, what? I hadn’t just thrown that presentation together—and I had the empty coffee cups (yuck) in my trash to prove it. But, for whatever reason, I felt the need to discount my own effort and make it seem like I had hardly tried.
If you’re nodding along with this scenario while thinking, “Whoa, this is totally me!” you aren’t alone. It’s a trap we all fall into from time to time.
As this article written by Rose Eveleth so eloquently explains, that’s called the “myth of no effort”—a term coined by musician and writer John Roderick.
When you boil it down, saying things like this is really just an exercise in self-preservation. If we can make it seem like we have just thrown things together without much thought or effort, we’ll supposedly cushion our ego against potential bruises. Any harsh criticisms or blatant rejections will be less embarrassing if you can keep up those appearances that you’re aware this wasn’t your best work.
But, here’s the thing: The myth of no effort is a dangerous one. Why? Well to put it simply, you’re shooting down your own work before you even get started.
Think about it this way: If you attended a dinner party at someone’s house and—as she was setting the entrée on the table—the host said, “I think this lasagna is really undercooked and I also might’ve lost a few strands of hair in there, but enjoy!” would you be really pumped up and ready to enjoy that Italian feast? Probably not.
While you’re likely not dishing out pasta at work, that same concept still holds some water: Criticizing yourself and your supposed lack of effort (ahem, now we all know better) will put preconceived notions and a bad taste in your audience’s mouth right from the get-go. And, that’s not exactly the tone you want to set.
Believe me, I understand the urge to put down your own work—it doesn’t always seem impressive to admit that you put your all into something that was important to you, particularly if you’re worried it won’t be well-received. It seems way cooler to be effortlessly amazing at what you do. But, remember that they call it work for a reason.
So, as much as you might fantasize about being that employee who breezes into a room armed with a flawless presentation she whipped together during her morning commute, that’s simply not reality for the most of us. You put hard work into the projects you complete, and you shouldn’t be afraid to own that.
Because in the end, there’s really no shame in being a hard worker who’s willing to put in the necessary hours and elbow grease in order to churn out awesome, high-quality work. In fact, I think that’s even more admirable.