Complacency is the Enemy

In business and life, getting too comfortable with a good situation can often doom it. Pick your state of being–steady job, interesting task, happy relationship, clean home, what have you–if you pause too long to relax, something will come up to make you regret resting on your laurels. More often than not, as one of the pop icons from my generation put it, someone will ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

The Temptations of Success

Any new situation has a learning curve, that time when you “ramp up” from little to no knowledge to something approaching a plateau of understanding where you think you can handle nearly any challenge related to it. However, any good engineer will probably tell you that when things are moving along too smoothly, that’s when you’re most likely to encounter a problem because your lack of vigilance allowed a minor (or major) error to occur.

You might be into year two or three of a job and finally feel like you know what you’re doing. You might even get a raise based on your quality of work. Great! Time to relax, right? Alas, no. The problem with letting your brain or your efforts go on automatic is that you can get bored and careless. You might think you know what you’re doing, so there’s nothing left to improve upon or learning.


It can be challenging to balance hard-won, effortless knowledge with the need to treat every situation as unique, but to maintain your success, that’s exactly what you need to do. After all, if you start treating your work (or relationships) as routine, you can miss something important. Someone else might come along with fresher enthusiasm or a new point of view–someone who is able to pay attention more closely just because they’re new. Or worse: if the task becomes too easy and repetitive, someone will find a way to automate it and replace you with another person, a computer, or robot.

Overcoming Temptation

Mind you, this sort of problem has been occurring throughout history. Individuals, groups, and even governments seek unchanging states of effortless joy, security, or contentment, not realizing that the only way to maintain a state of joy or contentment is through concerted, daily (or even minute-by-minute) effort.

If I may get a bit lofty for a moment, I would dare to suggest that the ongoing maintenance of our civilization–from governments to work tasks to one-on-one relationships–require a constant willingness to keep doing the things that are necessary to ensure its effective functioning. That means we keep the machinery of our lives going by not letting the little things get overlooked just because they’re easy or familiar. Many of the “quality” initiatives you see in businesses are driven by the need to maintain constant attention to the big and little things as well as the need to find ways to make them better.

Therefore, if you find yourself getting a little too comfortable, burned out, or bored with what you’re doing, that might be a good time to think of ways to make the effort more interesting or better. You might need to seek more challenges or ask your customers/peers what they like or don’t like about the “easy” way you’re doing things. As my parents are fond of pointing out to me, “There’s always room for improvement.”

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to Complacency is the Enemy

  1. Pingback: Summary of “Complacency is the Enemy” | Technical Writing and Editing

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