Saving integrity in a world where it is drowing
I can’t be the only one who feels pressure to be perfect. At least not the only one in my generation: the millennials. We are told for our whole lives that we can do whatever we want to. We are constantly praised for doing anything from getting a good grade to throwing a Frisbee correctly. We are molded to believe we can do no wrong, but that’s not the case. When we do in fact do something less-than-perfect, the pressure of the impending blame or failure is almost crippling at times.
It’s not that we aren’t realistic, but that realism gets masked by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves which were thrust on us by ourselves and others in our world. These expectations coupled with the increasing dependence – no, ADDICTION – to technology is having some less-than-ideal results. Let me tell you what I mean.
At work, I can be close to bursting into tears when someone sends an email criticizing me or my work to my boss. It doesn’t matter if that person is an ass and is just trying to get a rise out of me; it’s insulting me. When I can’t voice my values without getting taken down it insults my integrity to the core. I have a hard time focusing on what I can do next and instead internalize every mistake I have made lately and suddenly I’m a failure. I recant my statement a bit about “adults” boosting our self-esteem to unrealistic levels because my father once said to me that I didn’t have enough experience to have integrity.
But what does this all mean? What does it imply? We are so focused on not failing and being perfect that at times people can be willing to do things that compromise their integrity to either make themselves seems more perfect or to cover their asses to avoid failure. We simply can’t handle it sometimes.
What does this mean for our teams? They hear about “agile” as this silver bullet. But it’s HARD. It takes a long time to get good at it. They fail a lot, and most of the failures do not relate to “being” agile, but rather the systems we have shrouded our work in. It’s a hit to confidence, a hit to delivery, and a hit to the chest personally.
With technology it becomes too easy to hide behind a screen and dehumanize yourself and others around you. Every keystroke can be tracked so when there’s a defect, it can be tracked back to exactly when and where and how you were responsible for it. It’s hard to escape, but I still see people try to save face. They talk about conversations about why they did it, try to justify instead of just admitting to the mistake. Because somehow we feel if that mistake count gets too high really bad things will happen. We will get chastised, we will lose face, we will lose our jobs! We think there are only a limited number of chances (and sometimes there are), but to combat that, every mistake is blown out of proportion in our heads. This can make us lose our integrity.
But maybe we never had it (integrity)? Are some things different from others? Not that I’m a developer but of course I have tried to cover my ass when I made a mistake. But there are some things I would never do that others in my generation do. Someone I worked with discussed with me how he lied on his resume and said he had 8 years of experience when he really had zero. First of all that is ludicrous because you can’t very easily look 30 when you’re 22 (I can’t). Secondly, I guess he was a good liar because he made it through the interview. But third – go back two things – LIED on his resume?!
That is something I could never even think of doing and not nearly to that magnitude. Sure I have put I’m more proficient at a language than I was when I was a developer. But making up a job, a history? No fucking way! That is the basic integrity I’m worried about when I think about my generation and the ones to come. And Agile needs integrity to work. We need to trust that people will stand up for their ideas and call out others they think are acting wrong. We need to know that people have the best intentions of the team in mind and not just themselves. We need to make a safe environment for people to make mistakes and not try to cover them up. Integrity can’t drown, it just needs a few life savers and some support to be able to swim again. And as for the millennials, we need to learn how to swim without those lifesavers and have confidence that we won’t drown.