Are You Overly Emotionally Attached to Your Work?

A laptop on a meeting table with people around it

A healthy amount of objectivity about your own work can be helpful.

It’s easy to become overly attached to your work, especially when it bears your name or creativity. 

Expert writers are often told to “kill their darlings.” It’s a concept that means you should omit non-essential materials from your writing (characters, plots, etc.) This can be a hard thing to do when you put significant time and effort into developing these storylines, but they might not always serve the overall goal of the piece. The only remedy is to cut ties and keep moving forward. 

This idea can translate to all types of work, even the most scientific and practical. Just because you put a lot of work into something doesn’t mean you have to hang onto it forever. Sometimes we find ourselves gripping our work a little too tightly. Being too attached to the work can cloud judgment, create more work, and even lead to burnout. The question becomes how to find balance. 

A few signs that you may be too attached to your work might be:

  • Feeling overworked. You never take a step back to examine the process or the progress. Instead, you feel like you’re juggling many projects and ideas. 
  • Constantly pushing back deadlines. Sometimes the work never feels finished and you keep finding ways to change, improve, or revise it.
  • Not accepting help or feeling defensive. You worry that others don’t truly understand your work or might interfere with your progress, even if they may be experts themselves.

It’s not always easy giving yourself some distance from your ideas and hard work, but practicing it can play an important role in your own growth.

The perils of becoming too attached

We all want to put our best foot forward, and that’s partially the reason why we can blur the lines between ourselves and our work. But at the end of the day it’s important to remember that we are not our work, even if it’s something we are proud of, care a lot about, and want to do our best at.

Becoming too attached to work can look different to each person and each line of work, but it can become as much of a problem for everybody in every field. For people early in their careers, it can be an especially tricky problem to overcome, because having a smaller body of work means that you don’t have as many ideas or avenues to explore. We feel like we have to take those ideas all the way to the finish line and defend them until they’re there. But the reality is quite the opposite.

Take this as a sign to shift your perspective. Having less experience or fewer items to hang your hat on, also means that you have the opportunity to explore more, take on more work that interests you and learn from it! That last piece - learning - is especially important because it means you’re open to growth and innovation. Those are qualities that set the great apart from the good. 

Executive coach Edyta Kwiatkowska points to a host of benefits being open-minded, including:

  • Being a better communicator, not only in your professional life but also in your personal relationships. 
  • Being more approachable. This helps leaders take charge and solve problems more easily because they are trusted and willing to work out a problem. 
  • More ideas. You find that when you’re willing to listen and learn from others, good ideas multiply. You’ll never have a shortage when you give yourself permission to wander. 

Being too attached makes all of those perks a lot harder to reach otherwise. 

Let go to push yourself further

In the example of writers needing to “kill their darlings,” it’s often an exercise in letting go of something in order to create something better. It takes some intuition but mostly a lot of dedication to the overall vision of the work.

Consider revisiting your goal when you feel like you’re getting too attached to your work. That can be a great place to look to see if you’re holding too tightly onto something – even if it serves you or the project in a positive way. Perhaps it’s taking too much of your attention when it’s needed somewhere else. 

Other times, it’s easy to hold onto something that could be executed better, written more clearly or isn’t needed at all. Ask yourself:

  • What purpose does this serve? 
  • Can I do this better?
  • Do I need a fresh set of eyes? 

When we focus too intently on one piece of an overall project and, sometimes by default, guard it too much, we end up stunting its growth. The best way to overcome that is to analyze its worth and whether it actually serves the purpose we think it does. 

If it doesn’t, going back to the drawing board can actually end up being a really rewarding place because it means you know you’re capable of creating something bigger and better. 

Finding emotional balance

In some instances, being too attached to work doesn’t mean it needs to be cut or changed or pushed to the side, it just means that we need a break from it. 

“Your drive and passion propel you to perform. Caring deeply about your performance provides satisfaction and meaning,” explains Melody Wilding, an executive coach, for the Harvard Business Review. “But being too emotionally tied to your job can become a huge drain and weight to carry.” 

Attachment can turn to burnout if we’re not careful, so it’s important to create boundaries and find some time away from the work. 

If you’re a manager, get comfortable with delegating. If you’re in a project by yourself, be sure to schedule some time away from the work. If distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it’ll at least give you some rest from it and help you recharge.

When you return you’ll feel more fulfilled and ready to take on the next task. 

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