This time we’re talking about a word that from my own past that revealed quite a lot to me about how I viewed myself and my work. All thanks to a chance encounter at a work event. The word is just but it’s in the context of “I’m just an admin guy”.
I remember very clearly when I said this to someone, and their reaction really shifted how I saw things. Years and years ago I was “just” an Administration and Projects Officer, I was at a work event I had helped to organise and run. I got chatting with a delegate and he asked me what I did and I said “I’m just the admin guy” he looked at me a little sadly and said “You know this is exactly why I do what I do, so that colleagues like you can learn to value the work you do” The man I was chatting to was a Rep for the Association for University Administrators (AUA). We spoke a bit more and he encouraged me to look into joining the union to access training, networking and advocacy that they provide.
He was right, I was selling myself short and it came down to how I viewed myself and my work. In answer to that question I could have said “I’m the administration and projects officer, I helped organise this event.” But instead, I spoke from a place of defeat and undermined my own hard work by modifying it with that “just”.
There’s a larger point here which I think needs to be explored elsewhere, even now work that is seen as basic administration is belittled within the office environment and employees are often seen as unskilled or unambitious.
When I was working as a temp I was referred to as “just the temp” more than a few times, to my face. I was “just answering the phones” or “just buying in the refreshments and setting up the tables for meetings” if I didn’t do those things the phones would bother everyone to the point they couldn’t work, if I didn’t provide the refreshments and set up for the meeting, some important people would be annoyed, hungry, and standing around not knowing what to do with themselves without tables and chairs.
It’s important to examine how you refer to yourself. If you sell yourself short, if you belittle yourself guess what, you’ll feel sold short and belittled. It’s sad to say but you can’t stop other people doing that to you. When I was a temp, I couldn’t stop the boss telling people I was “Just doing the admin…” when he was showing visitors around the office. But I could control what I said about myself to other people.
This is exactly the sort of thing that comes up during coaching sessions, the way you speak about yourself is often so automatic that you don’t fully register what you’re saying, but a coach is listening, and a coach will probably ask you to pause and reflect on what you’ve said if you downplay your work by sating you “just” do something.
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