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Leave 'Martyrdom' In The Past

(April 17, 2023 Newsletter)

The first time I heard someone use the word “martyr” in a contemporary context was in college. Up until then, my only associations with the term were historical, liturgical, and political.

The martyr talk was an implicit competition over who could cram in the most and sleep the least - and have the most people know about it. You could commonly hear someone say, “I’m exhausted! I only got 3 hours of sleep last night because I had to finish a paper but only got back at 10pm from that event I was running.” Oh, the sacrifice!

I remember the shame wash over me as I wondered if the chatter was about me (gasp!). Was I complaining about “so much to do, so little time” to signal my status?

I’ve since spent 15 years observing this phenomenon in myself and others. Some of my current clients are working on updating their martyrdom complexes by introducing agency and choice into their narratives and setting boundaries, when needed.

If it resonates for you too, here are some questions for you to ponder:

  • In what way exactly do you see yourself as a martyr?

  • How does your martyrdom serve you? In what ways doesn’t it serve you?

  • What would you be giving up if you lay aside that identity? What could you gain?

  • What do you want to do next? How will you know you’ve done it? What might stop you? (And therefore, plan accordingly)

Feel free to pause for a few minutes to journal about these questions before you get back to work. It can be liberating to choose another path, to recognize that you can achieve your goals without sacrificing yourself (or signaling that sacrifice to others).


The Coaching Corner

Designing commitments

Picture the following ways that 1:1s often end:

  • Time’s up. You have to get to your next meeting so you just say “I gotta get going. Let me know how it goes, ok?” and you hop onto the next call without wrapping up that one up.

  • The other person’s to-do list is so long that they just stare at it and say “Yeah ok, I’ll figure it out” and off they go, looking flustered or dejected.

If you’re in the habit of ending meetings in either one of these ways, set yourself an alarm for 5 minutes before the scheduled end-time and ask the following questions:

  1. What are your most important insights from this meeting?

  2. What are your most important action items from this meeting?

  3. What do you need to accomplish them? By when can you finish them? How will you know they’re done? What do you need from me (including checking in again)?

Using these coaching questions to wrap up the meeting (they are just a few of many) helps the person make meaning and state their commitments, which helps you make sure they understood correctly and are focusing on the directions that you want.


As of November 2022, only 42% of executives reported rolling out a final version of their hybrid-work design. Everyone else reported that they're still transitioning. Read this article from last month's HBR on "Redesigning How We Work".

Listen to this podcast episode, “The End of Mediocrity (part 2)”. This is 20 minutes on how AI will separate the mediocre workforce from the great.


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