I recently met with a colleague who was preparing to go on maternity leave. She talked about the logistics involved to allow her program to run without her for several months, and how she has spent her time delegating and training others for her departure.
"I spent the first five years of my career trying to become indispensable," she said. "And then I realized that was not a sustainable lifestyle. I have spent the next five years of my career trying to make myself dispensable instead!"
We talked about how letting go is a hard lesson to learn for anyone in a new role: new employees, new parents or new leaders -- at first, everyone thinks they prove their value when others are reliant on them. It is only with wisdom that people learn that the true measure of their worth is how people operate without them there: how the child or employee lives out the values you have imparted without your monitoring or how the work is done when you are away.
It reminded me of a quote from one of David Ambler's Guidelines for Working With Students: "Accept the fact that we are not an end to ourselves. With each new program and student, we should work toward the end of eliminating our necessity." It may seem counter-intuitive, but it a maxim that ultimately rings true.
What steps can you take today to make yourself just a bit more dispensable than you are? You'll approach your work differently if you make eliminating your necessity the goal.