Andy: This week, I talked to a lot of people about their work lives. Almost all of them said some version of, “It’s probably just me.” It’s probably just me who didn’t understand the instructions, probably just me who can’t come up with a creative solution, probably just me that I’m having a hard time focusing right now. I wanted to shake their shoulders through the video call and say, “It’s probably not you.”

Emma: A little Tuesday challenge for everybody: examining all the ways it’s not just you!

Andy: Right now, it’s probably also a pandemic. But it’s a worthy question to ponder in normal times too: What if it’s not just me?

Emma: I love this question. We’re so interconnected at work — hardly anything happens in a vacuum. The thing that you think you failed at, or have been told you’ve failed at, has a lot of contributors. This isn’t a way to shrug off accountability. It’s just the truth.

Andy: The problem with thinking it’s just you is there’s not really any solution. What, you’re going to simply go to sleep tonight and respawn as a slightly different human? In a video game, maybe. In real life? Definitely not. That’s not how change happens. You’re going to wake up every day with the same issue, now with a little self-hate sprinkled on top.

Emma: I’m thinking back to when I was a first-time manager at zulily and on the hiring team. I met with a guy who’d applied; I thought he was very friendly. I voted yes; my boss voted no. She was outnumbered and the guy was hired. He was, of course, a total disaster.

I felt awful! I should have known to vote no. My lack of judgement had failed me and the team. And that is very true: I was a key contributor to a big problem on the team.

Andy: Oh man, it’s so easy to stop right there: “It’s me. I should have known to vote no.” But what if it’s not just you?

Emma: Right! There were other people who voted yes. And my boss had the power to trump our yes votes, but didn’t. And her manager put together our hiring team, full of first-time interviewers like me without any training. It wasn’t just me.

Andy: I had a similar experience at a job when almost none of the work I was doing was hitting the mark. I thought: I need to be more creative. I need to be clearer. I need to work slower and more carefully. I need to work faster and more efficiently.

I was finding fault after fault after fault with myself. And a lot of those faults were contradictory! Which, in hindsight, was a pretty good sign my diagnosis was off.

Emma: This whole exercise might sound an awful lot like passing the buck…but it’s not. It’s about placing an error in its context.

Andy: Getting a grip on the machine in which I’m operating is one of the only ways I can actually improve — to ask the right questions, request the right information. There are real next steps to take that aren’t superhuman inner resolve.

Emma: Exactly. Floundering around in my own shame and insecurity means I might try to solve my poor interviewing judgement by frantically Googling, “Good questions to ask during an interview.”

Understanding the context of my own failure means I’d have a better chance of saying, “I’m new to interviewing and don’t understand what I’m looking for in a candidate, or how to find it. What are my options for interviewer training? Is that available to the group?”

Andy: It’s the exact opposite of passing the buck! It’s pointing at the thing that can be fixed — for example, your entire team’s lack of experience interviewing. That’s not you. In fact, if it had been just you, you’d have been outvoted and there wouldn’t have been a problem at all.

Emma: I like to use the sentence starter, “If it’s not just me, then what could it be?” If I come up blank, I ask Andy or another friend who knows me and knows my work.

Andy: Don’t shrug off real change by blaming and shaming yourself. It’s probably not you, and that means the solution is probably not you, either. There are real next steps to take. Let’s find them.