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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Yes, Being Too Good at Your Job Is a Thing (and Yes, It’s a Problem)

You know the term rock star is an annoying, overused hiring cliché. But, lets be real: That’s just the kind of employee you are. Your interviewer told you—on the spot—that you were the perfect candidate. You got the salary and perks you wanted, and your boss has yet to give you a project you couldn’t handle.

And yet, you’ve recently started to notice some strange things happening. For example, you’re no longer the first choice to spearhead projects. Or, when you share brilliant ideas with your supervisor, he’s started pushing back that he’d really like things done a different way. When did he stop seeing your genius?

There’s no easy way to say this, but it could be that your success has gone to your head—and you’re behaving as if you’re the best thing to ever happen to your company. And that’s one of the worst things for your career growth. Not only are you no longer learning (because you know everything), but you’re putting yourself in precarious waters with your boss.

Concerned this might be you? Here’s how to diagnose if you’re on this path—and what you can do about it:

Is This You?

Everything’s a Negotiation

You imagine a workflow where your boss assigns you a project, you share your ideas for moving forward, and—with no more than some minor tweaks—he tells you to go for it.

But that couldn’t be further from reality.

The assignments you do get don’t allow much room for interpretation. And when you share an idea, you have to fight for it every step of the way. Every email becomes a back-and-forth chain, and the more ardently you tell your boss you know what you’re doing, the more he pushes back that he’d really like you to follow his directions.

Other Colleagues Aren’t Having the Same Problems

Your boss is a hard-to-please nightmare, and you can’t wait for drinks with your work BFF, so you can swap stories about just how awful he is. Except, your co-worker’s experience is totally different. For the most part, she’s really vibing with your supervisor.

In fact, it seems like you’re the only teammate in the doghouse. You’re always picked last and you’re routinely being passed over for projects you want. You’ve mentioned it, but nothing’s changing.

You’re No Longer Getting Good Feedback—From Anyone

Chatting with a few colleagues you trust is beneficial in more ways than one. Along with hearing if they too think your boss is on a rampage, you can get some feedback from a third party.

Let’s say your manager never has anything nice to say about your ideas. What about your co-workers? Are they all over your latest suggestion, because, yes, it is life-changing, or are they politely thanking you for your input—and sticking to the original plan?

If no one is praising your suggestions, odds are it’s not just your boss. No matter how smart you are, you’re kinda out of sync with the general direction of your department.

What Now?

OK, so you read the above and nodded nonstop. But, you’re not sure what to do next. It’s not your fault you’re good at your job (like really good).

Unfortunately, believing you’re supremely talented can be an obstacle in the workplace (even if it’s true). Not only does it isolate you from the rest of your team, but it can also lead you to thinking—and acting on the idea—that you don’t need a boss. In fact, you may start to assume your current one’s just a figurehead, even a nuisance.

You might think getting along with her is perfunctory—but it’s not. She’s (usually) in charge for a reason. And she’s typically not thrilled when someone starts reacting to her feedback like it’s just unnecessary suggestions.

The scary news is: To stay relevant, you need to make a change. But the good news is: You can—starting today. Because you can alter how you interact with her and how you go about your day-to-day in the office.

Let’s start with the constant back-and-forth. If your response is to keep hammering away at why you’re right, odds are you aren’t listening. Rather, you’re focused on winning the conversation. (Which, for the record, isn’t how conversations with your boss work.) So, treat the next few weeks like an experiment. Complete projects as they’re assigned without pushing back. Make a promise to yourself to only ask questions for clarification (not to prove a point). If you find the praise ramping back up again, take that as a sign that you’re back on the right path.

And if she seems to have it in for you? Take a step back from the situation and know this: Making her suddenly see why her way sucks is going to be really hard—especially when her approach doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else. Yes, you can decide she’s threatened by your brilliance and that this isn’t worth your time (along with a host of other excuses).

Or, you can choose to go all in on demonstrating you want your job. Along with following your boss’ directions, seek out more feedback, not less (and not just from your supervisor, but also from your teammates).

For example: When you turn projects in, ask what you can do to make them even better, and seek to incorporate those pointers in future work. And, when you’re tempted to push back—ask “Why?” instead. Not like a petulant child, but because you’re genuinely curious as to why something should be done a certain way. Either you’ll get some useful insight into your boss’ quirks and pet peeves, or better yet, you’ll learn that her way’s truly better for sound and valid reasons.

If you’re worried that your once rising star is falling because of your boss, you’ll lose nothing by trying the strategies above. At worst, you’ll have learned a new approach to dealing with someone you don’t understand—a vital workplace skill. At best, you’ll see improvements to your workload and your relationship with your manager, which will help you feel more confident about your career path and your future at the company.

Photo of winner courtesy of Shutterstock.