Mar 24

Coronavirus has changed the way many are working around the globe. Businesses are using a variety of tactics to adjust to the remote work life, and the work day for many has turned on its head. We can sulk and see this only as a negative, an annoyance, and a major disruption-or we can take the opportunity to learn, reflect, and innovate. The saying ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ no longer applies here (and honestly should never apply-always improve!), but rather we should be proactive in answering the hard questions. How can we fix it? How can we turn this bad turn on luck into something productive? Now is the time for outside the box thinkers-which leads me into the topic of this blog... overthinking.

I have held a variety of jobs in both industry and seniority. These jobs did not follow the typical sequence like our parents and grandparents (who stayed with the same company for 100 years, walked to and from blocks and blocks in the snow, etc.) because the current job market is simply different. Students and recent graduates often ‘start over’ in companies numerous times whether through internships, switching industries, or the need to pick up a second job to pay for their amazon prime membership. This new delineation occurred to me and brought up a concern that I believe needs to be addressed. Rant mode:ON.

Typically, one's desire to do a job fully, purposefully, and with regard to company policy should be viewed as admirable-and in past decades I believe this was the case. However, now this action is often responded to with the daggering statement of,  “You’re overthinking it.”. It seems the act of wanting to learn, improve, and better your skills by both intra and interpersonal thinking has been deemed a flaw. When I have heard this in the workplace my initial feeling is that of embarrassment, and worst of all, isolation. 

School always came easy to me. I wouldn't consider myself a ‘brown noser’ by any means, I always felt that my quality of work should speak for itself.  I was never the one to want to read out loud or raise my hand, and this was not only because I was shy, but more so it was the fear of being wrong. The shame, the laughing, the inevitability of all eyes being on me and the thought in what I’m sure would be judgement from the class (flashback to college when I answered a question in my public economics course and the professor's response was a stern and simple, “wrong”). 

In school we prepare for the ‘real world’ by completing assignments to all specifications and are penalized when we fail to do so. We are encouraged to participate in class, to ask questions, and to take advantage of any opportunity to learn from the instructor and others. We venture into our first internships and jobs with this mentality instilled in us. Ask questions, take notes, execute these lessons. Wash, rinse, repeat. We walk in starry eyed, full of wonder (ok, maybe just me) and ask the employees to tell us everything about their job. The usual response-a look that expresses, I need to get my job done and you need to get away from me.

When we become adults I feel some of this fear mentality still exists. We don’t want to raise our hand in a staff meeting to ask for clarification because this makes us look like we didn’t listen carefully enough the first time. We are slow to speak up on our opinions of internal processes because we don’t want to anger the ones who put them in place.

Maybe it is my past love for assignments where following instructions led to a positive response that makes the workforce feel so scary sometimes. Going back to me being told, “You’re overthinking it”, I no longer view this as something shameful. I will not apologize for being curious. I will not apologize for the desire to be a good employee. I seek to squash the negative connotation of this phrase. We are told to think before we speak. ‘Thinking’ is innately a good action (which we desperately need more of in this society if you ask me, but I digress), and achieving is also a positive action-so why are the terms 'overachiever’ and ‘overthinking’ regarded as a bad trait?

My nerd self took the dictionary to solve this conundrum:

Think (verb): to form or have in the mind

Over (prefix): so as to exceed or surpass

Out (prefix): in a manner that exceeds or surpasses and sometimes overpowers or defeats

This then translates to the following:

OVERthink: to think too much about (something) : to put too much time into thinking about or analyzing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful

OUTthink: to outdo or surpass in thinking : to go beyond or transcend by thinking

By definition the term overthink should not be negative, and should be seen similar to outthink-I wonder where this went wrong. (could be removed?)

I have a background in retail team management, and not once did I believe my team was ‘overthinking’ a task-positively or negatively. I welcomed questions. My employees who asked for guidance tended to do the job right, whereas the ones who claimed they ‘got it’ did not, indeed, ‘got it’! Thinking is a necessary and admirable trait in any human, and especially in an employee where your bottom line is at stake. This concept of overthinking was never a topic for discussion at meetings among fellow managers of the company. If an employee was up for discussion it was usually because they failed to complete a task-they failed to seek clarification-they failed to think.

The key to all of this comes from WHO the individuals were in my sob story that claimed I was ‘overthinking’ my job. The answer-my peers. My managers weren’t scolding me for asking questions or coming to them for guidance. It was my trainers, my same level employees who have held the job longer than me that judged my curiosity and became annoyed by my desire to learn. These people we encounter in life who seek to tear down our busy minds are envious that we have such ideas.

So, during this time of social unrest, routine changes, and the need to make big decisions whether personal or professional-I urge you to do what the others don’t want to do. Think. Think about ways you can improve your current situation, think of new ideas for your work or budgeting, invent something, and don’t let the fear of a bad idea drag you down. I am an over-thinker and am proud to be one. Who’s with me?

-Lauren

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