- Patrick Hulce
In the pursuit of professional success, I had always valued my passion, commitment, and emotional investment in my work. However, as my own career progressed, the ability to detach myself from the emotional intricacies of professional life proved to be an invaluable practice. In fact, I would go so far as to say that today, detachment has become my professional superpower.
The notion of detachment may seem paradoxical to the traditional idea of career advancement. After all, we are often told to pour our hearts into our work and to seek passion over profit. Yet, excessive attachment can lead to disappointment, burnout, and a loss of perspective. When we invest too much of ourselves in our work, we risk losing sight of the bigger picture, limiting our potential and satisfication in the process.
In contrast, detachment allows for a more objective and strategic approach to career fulfillment. When we are not as emotionally invested in a particular outcome, we are better equipped to assess opportunities, make rational decisions, and adapt to changes. In my own career, I have found that detaching myself from my immediate goals has enabled me to focus on the best outcome for all parties involved and make more informed decisions, reaping superior rewards along the way.
Passion Gone Awry
Early in my career, I was consumed by a fervent desire to achieve entrepreneurial success and was resolute in my determination to have a successful exit for a company of my own before turning 30. My ambition was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was the source of my drive and commitment. On the other, it also left me vulnerable to the emotional turbulence that can accompany professional life. I felt that any criticism or setback could be catastrophic for my goals, and thus, I was perpetually on edge, striving to control every aspect of my career trajectory. Afterall, in order to realize my professional vision, I recognized that I needed to acquire a diverse range of technical, managerial, and soft skills. I had to master React, APIs, nginx configs, server deployments, ops, sales, networking, and people management.
Every new project I embarked on needed to incorporate a novel learning opportunity.
Every conversation with every senior engineer, who held my promotion fate in their hands like a small bird, needed to dazzle and impress.
Every introduction at every networking event had to be perfectly smooth.
Every engineering proposal I made had to blow away my stakeholders.
In short, I was emotionally invested in every professional turn of events, and any development that was not 100% aligned with my plans posed a grave threat to my aspirations.
The Privilege to Detach
After years of anxiety-riddled work like this, I eventually found myself scratching my startup itch and was no longer driven by such aggressive career goals. It was at this point that I was finally able to let go of these emotions and begin to separate my personal fulfilment from my work identity.
Detachment allowed me to slow down, focus less on immediate results, and focus more on contemplating the best long-term path forward, improving my persuasive writing and analytical skills in the process.
Detachment allowed me to recommend building systems in a way that generated extremely boring work for me personally, but was the right choice for my client's business, building a stronger network in the process.
Detachment allowed me to more readily deflect credit to more junior engineers and see them grow at an accelerated rate with increased visibility and responsibility, improving my teams in the process.
Detachment allowed me to calmly communicate to the entire engineering org that the project I built a team around and spent a year personally building was no longer the right investment for the company, and scrap it all, earning a reputation for honesty and maturity in the process.
Detachment allowed me to drive consensus with other very senior engineers on contentious, divisive issues for 18 months before hearing surprise that "I think this might be the first time I've ever seen you even close to frustrated," being recognized for objectivity and serenity during challenging times in the process.
Coming Full Circle
In essence, detachment is not about apathy or disengagement. It is about finding the right balance between emotional investment and rational decision-making. When we detach ourselves from the emotional demands of our goals, we can cultivate resilience and stability in its place. Detachment allows us to handle setbacks and failures with greater ease and move forward with a clear head. Ironically, by letting go of my aggressive career goals and embracing detachment, I became a much better engineer and accelerated my career growth even though I wasn't even trying to do so anymore.
Detachment, as an emotional tool, has evolved into a quintessential component of my success when facing challenging professional situations. Its utility is inextricably linked to the ability to maintain a level head, focus on strategic, long-term goals, rather than the immediate results that tend to elicit visceral responses. From these experiences, I have come to recognize that detachment is not only beneficial for navigating difficult scenarios but also for becoming a better thinker, a better colleague, and a better engineer.