Every time I sit down to work at my desk, a single message stares back at me. It’s a black and white illustration by Scotty Russell that says “Stay In Your Own Lane.” I intentionally hung it to the left of my screen, directly at my eye level, so that I could never start working without first thinking about it’s message.
Russell created it because he wanted to remind people to hone their own voice and style. He wrote, “Staying in your own lane means creating work that you think is dope and that you're enthusiastic about. It's about creating for you and not for others.”
I totally agree with him on this point, but it’s not how I use the piece. For me, the message is “Stop. You don’t know everything.” It’s a reminder while I’m working that there is a time for collaboration and a time to shut up and heed expert advice.
The hope is that with constant exposure, I’ll train myself to remain measured and considerate with everything I do. It’s not a magic cure to stopping every impulse, but it’s an important start.
Because here’s the thing we’re all losing sight of in the world of Google and Wikipedia and Skillshare — you can’t be an expert, or even good, at anything in five minutes. Articles, conferences, webinars, they’re all useful tools, but they are created to consumed casually. They’re interesting but not comprehensive.
Mostly we should be using them as entry points into topics that are vast and deep and nuanced. Not calling ourselves informed after one read.
It might sound obvious to your rational mind, but our behavior as a collective doesn’t indicate that any of us know this. The internet is painted with opinions, reactions and ideas from people who are mostly clueless about the topic they’re discussing.
We’ve turned into a bunch of toddlers who learn new words and convince ourselves that it makes us experts. And we have to stop.
Not stop learning. But we have to stop demanding that we be included in collaboration simply because we want to or we’re familiar with the topic at a very basic level.
We can ask to be included in the conversation — the brainstorming that happens before your team starts to execute the chosen idea. That is a place that is appropriate for all ideas and everyone should have equal weight.
But when it’s time to execute and really make something come to life, everyone needs to stay in their lane. Steady, dependable traffic makes everything run smoother. Everyone gets where they are trying to go much faster.
When one person inserts themselves in a lane they’re unfamiliar with or unqualified to use, everyone’s productivity is halted. So even if it might hurt your ego, stay in your lane when the time comes to execute an idea.
Basically, act like an adult.
Because the truth is, not all opinions are valuable opinions. Not all ideas are ideas worth executing. Even if you are an otherwise intelligent, capable human being, there are areas of your professional life where your opinions or ideas aren’t valuable, or necessary, to the conversation.
Sometimes recognizing when your role is to listen and understand is the only valuable thing you can contribute.