There are no small roles, only small actors.
– Constantin Stanislawski
In our house, every Saturday night is family movie night. Yesterday, we watched the 2002 version of Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst, introducing the kids to one of my favorite superhero movies. I had totally forgotten that he was in the movie, but about half-an-hour in, as Peter Parker used his new powers to beat up some high school bullies, there he was, in the corner of the screen just behind Mary Jane Watson: the World’s Greatest Extra, Jesse Heiman.
Jesse Heiman has made minuscule appearances in dozens of movies and television shows. He’s been called the “most ubiquitous actor in Hollywood.” Most of his “roles” aren’t even roles, having neither lines or names. He’s essentially playing human scenery. His are small roles, notably only for the sheer number of them. Still, he must enjoy this path he’s chosen, since he’s been following it for more than a decade.
Are there really no small roles? Anyone could do what Heiman did in Spider-Man. If we’re judging the importance of a role – whether in a movie or in life – purely on the amount of attention it receives, or the amount of influence it wields, then we must distinguish between large roles and small ones. Continue reading Could You Be the World’s Greatest Extra?
This past week, my company held its annual performance evaluations. Our company has a pretty simple process – a short form completed by both the employee and the supervisor, then discussed in a one-hour meeting. The evaluations were partly about past performance, but largely dealt with our goals for the coming year and any obstacles to our performance. Our corporate culture revolves around weekly and monthly meetings that are focused on our tasks, so someone who was outright failing to live up to his obligations would know well before the annual evaluation. I found these evaluations to be a good time to talk about bigger picture issues, including longer term career goals.
I’ve been in organizations with more formal evaluations and some with much less or nonexistent evaluations, with both longer and shorter leashes. When I was delivering pizzas, your “performance evaluation” happened every single night. Poor performing drivers were weeded out quickly; if your work took a sharp dip south (as happened to one driver I knew), it didn’t matter what your annual record might be – you’d be on your way out.
In most corporate environments, though, my performance evalutions have revolved around annual goals tied to my job description. They’ve usually include a rubric of corporate values or performance measurements – teamwork, leadership, effectiveness – with some sort of scoring scale. Usually, these goals have related directly to my daily work, except in one unfortunate case when not only did my annual goals have very little to do with my actual work, but they were changed every few months by my supervisor, making it impossible to know whether I was really performing up to expectations.
Celebrating Achievements, Receiving Feedback
I find performance evaluations to be incredibly stressful. At the end of a typical day, I’m much more likely to worry about all that I haven’t gotten done than to celebrate the things that I have gotten done. When I started my current job, my wife bought me an accomplishments journal that I could use to keep track of what I’ve done. I don’t update as much as I’d like – due to forgetfulness and neglect, rather than a lack of activity – but I can use my daily journal as a reminder of how I’ve spent my time. Continue reading Evaluating Your Performance
It was my first business trip as Associate Director for InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network, and it was going great. I had visited a couple of my oldest friends, who soon became my first financial supporters. At their church, they had introduced me to a PhD candidate who immediately understood and appreciated the idea behind ESN. This job is going to be easy, I thought. Then the PhD candidate said, “There’s someone you’ve got to meet. She’s the associate dean for the largest university in the state, and she’s sitting right over there in the first pew.” Excellent! Another convert to the cause of ESN.
“Hi, my name is Mike, and I work with InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network”
“Really?” Her eyebrow went up. “What do you do?”
“I help students who are trying to get their PhDs and become professors.”
“Oh? And do you have a PhD?”
I didn’t like where this was going. “No, I don’t.”
“Then how could you possibly help?”
The conversation went downhill from there. At one point, she even said, “I don’t see the point in trying to ‘help’ students trying to become professors. If they can’t make it on their own, they don’t deserve to make it at all.”
Here was the exact kind of person that I thought would support my work wholeheartedly, and instead she dismissed it as a complete waste of time. Continue reading When Others Dismiss Your Work