I've worked in and for companies where the prevailing culture and expectation have been that you should come to work as the best version of yourself. Ideally every day. And today's version should ideally be a tiny bit better than yesterday's.
The mindset is reminiscent of principles from top sports. The ideal it strives for is perfection. It's elitism. It's an overdrive in the workplace.
Preferred attributes and descriptions of the culture often include that we are professional, hungry, forward-leaning, and always fully charged; ready for the challenge, on a mission for something greater. Something worth pushing yourself to the limit for.
It's fascinating. It can be compelling. And it is undoubtedly effective. Unfortunately, it is also dangerous.
Because under such ideals, people run like crazy. They run themselves into the ground. Common sense.
Why am I stating it so strongly? Dangerous? Can it be that bad? I believe yes.
Because it's not top sports and elitism that you engage in in the workplace. You go to work. You are driven to create value. To create meaning and results together.
Ambitions are necessary, precise goals as well. A culture that promotes good performance is beneficial for both owners and employees. And the path to a healthy culture and good performance is fortunately diverse. There is not just one recipe. You don't need a performance culture on steroids to succeed.
As a wise friend of mine says, "The working life is long, the top sports career is short. There are good reasons for that."
Chasing perfection in the workplace and constantly seeking a better version of yourself and those around you is a dangerous path to take unless the company culture also wholeheartedly supports its well-trained employees, even when things get tough, when mistakes are made, or when expectations are not met.
When there is a lack of warmth, room for making mistakes, room for not having your best day, then it becomes scary.
Expecting the very best from everyone at all times is expecting the impossible.
It doesn't exist. And it comes at a high price because people get worn out by it.
I break a sweat. Reality is not like that. We are not like that. We. As in us people, humans, employees, colleagues. We are not always the best version of ourselves.
If there is no room to show that, you wear yourself out. Because bigger, better, faster is an ideal, but not a realistic expectation to have for yourself and those around you.
Yesterday morning, I arrived at the office late in the morning after a rough start to the day. I met two colleagues in leadership who both looked like they could use a bucket of coffee.
I suddenly felt empathy. And belonging.
What a wonderful feeling! To work with and for people who see work as just that - work. Who are relaxed and ambitious at the same time. Who willingly show those around them that life is more than just this one salvation; to chase your best self and your best self day in and day out.