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What You're Giving Now? You Can Never Give Less

Friday, April 12, 2013
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

I love writing. 

These days, it tends to be about public administration, Canadian government, and democracy. It’s just what’s on my mind - I spend about half my waking hours thinking about strategic planning, program management, and governance as a by times engaged, by times unengaged public servant. And I've realized that I'm actually very passionate about public service and democracy in Canada.

Nick had kind, perhaps overly generous, words about my critical approach to things in his introductory post (see: Pivots, Badges, A New Contributor, and Bureaucratic Ipsum); and anyone who read my old blog knows that I like dissecting concepts. But after considering at length what the subject of my first post here would be, I opted for something more general that has been on my mind lately.


What You're Giving Now? You Can Never Give Less

A while back, a colleague was on a young managers panel at a conference. She was asked, in the Q&A, what one message she would impart to future managers: The response, in a split second, was “What you're giving now? You can never give less.”

She was right.

Your days spent treading water now are your baseline for the rest of your career. A few years from now, when you’re managing the demands of a portfolio on top of the complex personal dynamics of a team? That’s the easiest it’ll be from that point on. Such is the tragedy for those who are good at things; they keep being asked to do them.


Your workload may fluctuate, but the trendline over a 35 (ish) year career is going to be pretty definitive:



You can never give less.

One can interpret this as a cautionary tale; a warning about going too far, too fast. Or you can view it as a challenge, and lean into it. (See: Lean Into It)

If the prospect sounds daunting, consider this. People are great at setting goals and making lists, but it means we're always looking at the loose ends in our lives. It makes us feel like we’re running to stand still, so try looking back occasionally. Make a list of everything that you understand, or know how to do, that you did not three years ago.

You may be surprised, and you may find yourself with greater confidence about what you’ll be capable of three years from now - when you set the bar a little higher for the Nth time, knowing full well that it’s never coming down an inch.