When co-hosting a podcast, you try to find the theme of the episode and create a catchy title. Recently we had a virtual farewell for a beloved co-worker and friend, and one of the folks in the meeting spoke up near the end to nail the theme…there are no cheat days.
Losing a co-worker, boss, or direct report you enjoyed working with can be harder than perhaps you thought. It makes you realize we never really know how long certain people will get to be part of our lives (personally or professionally). When that person makes a decision to move on to something new, it leaves a hole. It only leaves a hole, however, because the person made an impact. Something they said or something they did impacted you in a positive way that made interacting with them memorable.
What Exactly Is a Cheat Day?
Thinking about this from a nutrition perspective, a cheat day is when you get to eat bad food and break your diet. It’s that day you can throw caution to the wind and pig out at Thanksgiving or have those 3 pieces of pie for desert. Cheat days are often thought of as a little psychological reward to keep us on track. After the cheat, we are supposed to go back to the normal dietary routine until the next cheat day comes. The cheat gives you the rush of getting something you want / aren’t supposed to have, but it feeds a craving you might actually want to break. And it might make you feel good while you’re doing it, but for me, eating bad food just makes me feel horrible and without energy. Melissa Hartwick classifies this behavior as feeding the sugar dragon. Will you feed the dragon, or will you slay it?
Now change the lens to career. A cheat day is deciding to do things half way, deciding that something less than quality work is ok, deciding to take a shortcut to achieve a desired outcome, glossing over the important details, or perhaps deciding to shirk responsibility altogether. It’s a conscious decision to do something less than you have committed to do for an employer, a colleague, or for yourself. Each day we have the chance to show up and gain experience that makes us and those around it better. We’re not always going to feel motivated to do it, but if we take the cheat day, it creates a gap between where we are and where we could be. It may not make us feel bad in the moment, but there is a negative impact. The cheat day debt will pile up on us and eventually hold us hostage short of reaching our career goals. Only through commitment to a daily honing of our craft whether we feel like it or not can we get better. Developing what Cal Newport calls career capital is the opposite of the cheat day mindset.
There are no shortcuts. There are no cheat days. There’s no way to excel in your field without putting in the time and the right kind of practice. It’s not about being a workaholic or avoiding days off. While you’re on the clock, focus on doing the work that needs to be done to be great at what you do. It won’t be easy. It will challenge you to stretch you past your current limits. It will grow you. Focus on that process of continuous improvement.
What we saw from the person mentioned above during their time at the company, time after time, exemplified the opposite of cheat day. Imagine leaving an impact like that on someone else. What impact will you leave? And when is your next cheat day?