Sacrifice Serves Nobody – And Martyrdom Isn’t Attractive

The author says that she is tired of hearing people say that sacrifice is required to get ahead in the workplace. She explains why she thinks this is a problem and as well as an alternate approach to use instead.

Brace yourself… I’m jumping on a soapbox and getting ready to rant.

There is a phrase that has been floating around – it’s almost become cliché but it is STILL being touted as truth. And frankly, I am SICK of hearing it.

It’s the idea that “you have to make sacrifices if you want to get ahead.”

I hear lots of people in our organizations say, “We are looking for and rewarding those officers who are making the biggest sacrifices.”

To that I say, “That explains a lot! If you are looking for mediocrity and status quo, asking for ‘sacrifice’ is the surest way to get it.”

Think about it… who really wants to sacrifice? It sounds yucky and nasty and uncomfortable. And it sets everyone up to fail.

What’s the problem with sacrifice? Here are 3 of them:

Problem 1: “Sacrifice” assumes limited resources!

Sacrifice means giving from a place of limited resources. Therefore, by definition, at some point there will be nothing left to give. Whether you’re considering the productivity of a team inside an organization, the emotional resilience of a family unit, or the physical stamina of an individual, at some point the entity will give out. The sacrifice has drained the reserves. There is nothing left to sacrifice.

Problem 2: “Sacrifice” hurts!

Sacrificing is painful, stressful, uncomfortable, and difficult. People must somehow be “convinced” to sacrifice, and the perceived reward must be sufficient to warrant the discomfort and pain associated with the sacrifice. Unfortunately, no outside party can ever quantify the pain level of a given sacrifice so the “reward” is never enough. In short order, the one making the sacrifice begins to feel unappreciated, unrecognized, and resentful. And when asked to sacrifice a second time? “Heck no! Find some other sucker!”

Problem 3: Sacrifice requires time to refill and recharge!

Because sacrifice depletes resources, when the well is empty, it requires time to refill and recharge. The amount of time and resources required to refill the well varies depending on the nature of the sacrifice and how many times the well has been drained dry in the past.

Given the challenges and responsibilities facing our public institutions today, THERE IS NO TIME to recharge. We must continue moving forward as fast as we can just to keep up.

There is another way! Because if what you’re really looking for are motivated individuals who are ready to take on the toughest challenges for the long haul, what you really want is their “Gift.”

Here’s why:

Gift assumes giving from a place of abundance, of overflow, of extra. By definition, the overflow does not get depleted. Every person has their own gifts, that collection of knowledge, skills, abilities, talents, desires, experiences and quirks that are unique to them. When each person uses their gifts, the supply is constantly renewed. It does not end.

Giving does not hurt. In fact, it feels AMAZING! It’s like a drug. When a person uses his natural GIFTS, he does not need any outside reward. (Which does not mean that you get to ignore appreciation!)The reward comes in the true satisfaction and fulfillment of authentically being in service to the world.

I once had an interview where I was asked, “Have you ever made any sacrifices in your life?” I thought for a long moment before I answered the question. What I said was, “Yes, I’m sure I did. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.” I realize now that I had NOT sacrificed. I had GIVEN freely and generously. And I was eager to do so again.

Because giving does not deplete resources, it does not require recharging. The act of giving is inherently self-sustaining, as the reward comes in the act itself. Some people will read this statement and think, “Well, if we operate this way, no one will ever do the hard jobs or take the tough assignments.”

What those people don’t realize is that the “hard job” is NOT HARD for the one ideally suited to fill it. For every assignment there is someone for whom the assignment is ideal. ALWAYS. Here is the key: Only the one GIFTed for the role knows that it is ideal for them. No other outside party can make that determination.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that the value of a contribution is directly related to the level of pain (sacrifice) involved in making the contribution. Viewed from the perspective of giving a precious gift, the opposite is actually true: the value of a contribution is directly related to the level of satisfaction and fulfillment involved in making the contribution.

Think about how much more fulfilled your entire life will be when you’re giving your gifts – freely and with love and excitement. You’ll no longer be that person around the water cooler, the one who’s run down, drained, grey, and miserable.

You’ll also arrive at home feeling contented. Maybe tired from a day of a job well done but you’ll no longer be that walking zombie who just wants to kick back with an adult beverage and the TV remote.

It’s the difference between giving from a place of abundance and wearing your martyr hat and comparing scars.

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.