Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Would you punch yourself in the face to hurt someone else?  Shoot yourself in the foot to prove guns are bad?  Seems illogical, right?  But people use that logic every day.

I've never understood when people hurt themselves in an attempt to hurt other people.  We see it all the time with sports stars who are “hurt” because they didn't get the playing time, money or fame they desired.  As a result, they hold out, under-perform, or don’t practice.  They always end up hurting their career, making less money and being perceived as a “problem” teammate. 

A while back, I had a conversation with a colleague who had concerns about the company where they were working.  I'm always interested in how companies can improve, so we had a discussion. In the midst of our talk, two things set off alarms for me. First, a lot of things seemed to happen to this person that were “out of their control.”  The issues were always fate or someone else’s fault.  Everyone has bad things happen in life.  The difference is how people deal with those issues and learn from them.  Watch for people who take responsibility for their own actions, or deal with life’s challenges head on if you want to see someone who will be a success.  Second, this colleague said they were only doing the minimum requirements for their job out of frustration and spite for their manager.

I did not know this person well, but they did not strike me as a bad person, just someone making bad decisions and taking the wrong action.  I discussed how this course could only lead to an outcome that would end up hurting the person.

When I heard later that jobs at the company were eliminated, I was sad, but not the least bit surprised that this person was one of the bottom performers let go.  Self-inflicted damage but, in the end, a good thing. The person was obviously unhappy so this freed them up to look for a place where they could be happy and successful.

Why would you ever not try your best?  Just like in sports, we are being compared to the market, other co-workers, and past performance.  It never makes us look better to do less than we are capable of.  Lower performance diminishes our value.  It shows you are not a team player.  It lowers the credibility of your voice and opinion.  It gives credence to dissenters.  It is always better in the long run to be someone that can be counted on through thick and thin.

Early in my career, I had a horrible boss.  She did not work often or hard, had no ethics, lied constantly, never came to the office, created political divides, etc.  I wrote a venting letter to the leadership team at the home office telling them all the things I saw, but before I sent it, I asked my step-father, who was the President of a bank, for feedback.  He said, “I get emotional complaints all the time, but it is hard to sort through them or do anything about them.  It is like children fighting.  It is hard to tell who started it and what the whole truth is.  What I always look for in potential leaders is rational feedback on how to improve a situation.” 

I took that to heart, and tore up the letter.  I wrote a constructive project plan on how we could improve the operations and organization.  I received a call from the head of my company a few weeks later saying, “I get complaints all the time, I almost never get something so thoughtful and productive.”  I am pretty sure nobody acted upon anything I suggested in that letter at all, but over the next few years, I was considered for promotions and opportunities that I might not have been otherwise.  Had I sent the first letter, I would have been perceived as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Always try your best and hold yourself to your own highest possible standard of excellence and ethics.  It can never hurt and can only help.  Those create much better odds for success over the long haul.


  1. Jason, This is so well written. Such excellent advice. I saw this in employees and it never ended well for them. -Chris O'Brien Horstman

  2. Jason, You're very special person with amazing thougths (smart brain) Please keep sharing!