You’re Not a 2” x 4”: A Lesson in Dispensability

One of the best and most valuable lessons the Army taught me was that I was dispensable. You may be thinking, “Best–wait, what?” Though our inclination is to see dispensability as a bad thing, it can actually be a really good thing.

Let’s take work for example. Maybe you feel like you have to take care of everything at the office. Maybe you feel like things will fall apart if you’re not always at the clinic. Maybe you think things will only get done right in the shop if you do them. Guess what? The place can run without you. Unless you’re a 2” x 4”, the walls won’t collapse if you’re not there. Sure, there are exceptions, as with most things. Generally, though, the place operated just fine before you ever got there and will function just as well long after you’re gone. If you’re not a one-man shop and you’ve trained your people well, things will be ok while you’re sick or on vacation. In fact, not taking time off can lead to burnout, which can actually decrease your efficiency and productivity. In effect, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

If you struggle with the idea of being dispensable, you should really take a look inside to see what that’s about for you. Why do you put that pressure on yourself? Why do you need everyone to think you’re so great, the hardest worker around, the one who hung the moon? Why is it so important for you to be invaluable, indispensable, the cat’s meow?

The answers to these questions are many, but the common thread is self-esteem. Some people need to feel needed. They judge their worth based on what they can do for other people. This leads to codependency. Some people have too much ego tied up in their work or can’t let go of their own self-importance. Others get too much of their identity from their work. Some feel they aren’t good at anything else, so they put all their energy into one thing. Low self-esteem issues such as these result in the seeking of validation from outside sources.

Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to do this to yourself anymore. Make yourself well-rounded, having many things that go into your self-definition instead of just work. If you don’t think you’re good at anything else, get that way. Go on vacation. Stay home if you’re sick. The walls will still be standing when you get back.

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