Beware of the extra milePosted: April 11, 2012
There are people ‘going the extra mile’ all over the place these days. From job interviews to appraisals, from pitches for new business to CVs, from websites to board rooms like Lord Sugar’s on The Apprentice, you can readily hear or read this phrase without having to travel an extra mile yourself.
The ‘extra mile’ of which they speak is that heroic extra effort, that additional, metaphorical distance that is travelled by keen, conscientious or ambitious people up and down the land as they strive to meet and exceed expectations and targets, to make money, or to impress and please people. It often achieves these things. But then what? What happens next? Well, it’s time to go another extra mile – the extra, extra mile perhaps – either for the same person or purpose, or for another one. And it happens again and again and again.
The sad thing that happens if you carry on going the extra mile is that you run out of extra miles and fall off the edge of the map (my own new nugget of business waffle – like it?). You then discover that getting back onto the map involves going more extra miles than you’ve ever gone before.
Sadder still, you realise, with the benefit of wisdom, hindsight or counselling, that:
a) you were actually going the extra mile so people would like you and give you praise;
b) you did that to prove to yourself that you were good enough; and
c) the extra miles you travelled got you nowhere.
After all those gruelling extra miles in pursuit of great rewards and riches – otherwise known as fulfilment and self-esteem – you still haven’t convinced yourself that you’re good enough to meet your own exacting standards. Striving to excel in every situation and to please everyone hasn’t worked.
I’ve been talking in metaphors and riddles up to this point, so allow me to spell out what I’m talking about. I’m one of those people who has always ‘gone the extra mile’. It has brought me plenty of kind words from plenty of people, but it has also brought me great stress, which then brought me depression. The real benefits of going that extra mile are few and far between, and you can find yourself incapable of going a single mile, let alone an extra one.
This isn’t a ‘poor me’ story. It’s a warning. Conscientious people are prone to depression because they keep going and keep going. Now armed with the benefit of hindsight from two rounds of counselling, I’d say that if you find yourself about to embark on another extra mile and it feels a step too far, stop, take some time out, and reconsider. Do it now, then you might be able to do some more extra miles when they’re really necessary and when they’re worth the destination.