Freud felt we all have an inner "death drive" that attracts us toward a state of nonbeing or, at the very least, to chaos. Dostoevsky -- himself no stranger to dark thoughts -- linked the tendency to act against your own interests with the need for self-expression and assertion of identity.
Since I'm not nearly as deep a thinker, there's a more likely reason we act against our own self-interests, especially at work.
Since life -- especially business life -- is so complex, it's sometimes easier not to think things through. It's easier to do what other people do. It's easier to stick to or even double-down on a decision rather than change our minds.
And, without realizing it, work against our own self-interests.
Here are some examples.
When You Focus on Growth, Not Fulfillment
As I've written about before, my friend Ian started his own construction business because he loved working with his hands. He loved the work.
But as his business grew, success changed the nature of his work and his life. Success meant he supervised people who supervised people. He wrote proposals. He reviewed estimates and contracts. He coordinated supply chains.
Growth led to a healthy bank balance and a seemingly enviable level of prestige and community standing.
But it also kept him from doing what he started a business to actually do: work side by side with a small, tight-knit group of people who built houses with their own hands.
His story is far from unusual. Plenty of coders start their own businesses only to find that their company's growth means they spend almost no time actually programming. Plenty of chefs start their own restaurants only to find that their business's growth means they no longer spend much time in the kitchen.
Depending on what type of business you want to build -- and by extension, what type of life you want to live -- growth might not be in your best interest.
Especially when growth means ...
When You Rush to Hire Employees
Yeah, I know. Success means working on your business, not in your business -- and the only way to do that is to delegate tasks to others. To focus on strategy, not tactics. To lead, not do.
To hire people.
Problem is, the first hires you make tend to set you on certain paths.
If you initially hire inexperienced people -- since they may be the only people you can afford -- it can be extremely hard to go back and fix that problem later. And in the meantime, those first few hires create your business's actual, rather than intended, culture.
Science agrees: Research published in Organization Science shows that "narrowly experienced" teams have trouble adding functional expertise not already embodied in the team.
Plus, if you hope to someday attract outside capital, companies that launch with broadly experienced team members "obtain venture capital more quickly regardless of the experience and structural composition of the top management team in place at the time of these outcomes."
In non-researcher-speak, where hiring employees is concerned, how you start directly impacts how you finish.
So, while you might need to hire people, do everything you can to wait until you can hire the right people.
When You Decide You Should Get Up at an Un(goshly) Hour
The subhead of an article written by my Inc. colleague Marcel Schwantes reads "The world's most successful people start their day at 4 a.m."
Lots of people disagreed. Like Adam Grant.
And even though I typically start my day by 5 a.m., in general terms I agree with Adam. While there can be definite advantages to starting your day early, what time you start your day has nothing to do with your level of success.
When you start working doesn't matter. When you stop working doesn't matter.
What matters is what you accomplish during the hours you work -- and that means making an intentional decision about what time you get up and what time you start work.
Not a reflexive choice or a copycat choice but a thoughtful, smart, logical decision, one based on what will make you most successful.
Because that's all that matters.
When You Focus on What Other People Think
It's hard not to worry about what other people think. Much of the time you should worry about what other people think.
But not if it stands in the way of living the life you really want to live.
That's when you must be willing to be misunderstood. If you decide to start a business no one thinks will work. If you decide to adopt the only work-life balance formula that actually works.
If you decide to consistently say the four most important words a leader can say.
Some people will question you. Some will doubt you. Some will think you're crazy.
They're not wrong. They just misunderstand.
And that's OK -- especially if you're living your life the way you want to live it.
When You Let Fear Hold You Back
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" is true, but in some ways a better quote might be, "The only thing we have to fear is ourselves."
Why? We're all afraid. We're scared of what might or might not happen. We're scared of what we can't change. We're scared of what we won't be able to do. We're scared of how others might perceive us.
And that makes us hesitate, wait for the right moment, decide we need to think a little longer or do some more research or explore a few more alternatives ... and days, weeks, months, and even years pass us by.
And so do our dreams.
Research shows we more often regret things we didn't do than the things we did, even if things we did turned out badly. Makes sense: With time and effort, you can fix almost any mistake. But you can't go back and do the things you dreamed of doing but didn't.
In fact, this study takes that idea even further, probing the kinds of regrets we have about the people we don't become -- which is a natural extension of the actions we didn't take.
Don't let your fears hold you back. Whatever you've been planning, whatever you've imagined, whatever you've dreamed of -- get started on it today.
If you want to start a business, take the first step. If you want to change careers, take the first step. If you want to expand or enter a new market or design new products or services, take the first step.
Successful people put their fears aside and get started. They do something. They do anything.
Successful people are often afraid, but they're more afraid of someday looking back and thinking, "If only I had ... "