should I pretend to be bad at work I hate?

A reader writes:

My partner offered me some surprising career advice the other day and it’s been weighing on my mind since.

I had been venting about a bad week at work. I have ended up with a really tiresome and time-heavy task that has nothing to do with my actual role in the business and instead is much more like admin. Think purchasing office furniture or going to the bank to cash checks. Anyone could do it, but we’re a small business, so someone had to take one for the team, and that ended up being me.

The thing is, it always ends up being me doing these things. I’m a 20-something woman, but I’m no less senior to most of my colleagues and no more qualified for the task in hand. I’m a friendly and helpful presence around the office, so I think perhaps it’s just easy to ask me. Perhaps there’s a bit of sexism involved? My colleagues are majority male and I work in a male-dominated industry.

In the past, I’ve tended to just dig in and make sure the necessary things happen to keep the business going, but I started to realize that my colleagues always manage to side-step those sort of tasks. I started getting frustrated, and I vented to my partner.

His advice surprised me. He told me, “You need to be strategically bad at some things.” In other words, if I continued to excel at the tasks that are actually within my job description but deliberately sucked at the other stuff, I would be able to avoid that stuff in the future. He warned that being helpful in the way that I am could be holding me back in my career. I could be unconsciously slipping into a support role when I should be spending my time gaining skills that would help me move onwards and upwards in my career.

His point really threw me. Are other people doing this? Is it even ethical? Or team-spirited? Is there a better way to achieve the same end? I’d greatly appreciate your opinion!

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

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