Finding Yourself in the Fixer Role and Need a Way Out?
As women, we’re socialized from an early age to be useful; essentially trained from childhood to seek out opportunities to “help out.” And for a while, it works out pretty well for us. In our early careers, we’re celebrated for being Fixers. When someone comes to us with a tricky problem or office emergency waiting to happen and we save the day, we’re labeled as indispensable. But there’s a moment when we cross a line from “fixing” being a good thing, to it working against us, and if we’re not careful, it can start to put our career aspirations on ice.
Becoming a Fixer
Before we dive into tips on how to resist our Fixer tendencies, let’s first talk about how we got stuck here in the first place. When we’re struggling to figure out how to be noticed and make an impact in our jobs, being a Fixer, or the go-to problem solver in the office, can satisfy a desire to feel needed. We get to be a part of important meetings and conversations, being recognized for our gift of “fixing,” pulled in right at the pivotal moment to save the day.
But is this the kind of recognition we want? Sadly, as we progress in our careers, the Fixer starts to work against us. When we’re only pulled into conversations when something is going wrong, we lose our opportunity to demonstrate our ability to be proactive and strategic, focusing solely on putting out fires. Worse, we’re not tapped for our expertise when things aren’t going wrong, because we’re valued only for the fixing. As we move up the chain of hierarchy, tactical and execution oriented work can start to be viewed as less impactful… that is, until we reframe it.
As a card-carrying member of the Fixer Club, I can attest that the seduction of a problem that needs solving might never quite go away. But here are three strategies to break free of the spell of the Fixer that will allow you to demonstrate your true impact.
Along with being socialized to be helpful, many women are taught from an early age to be “nice,” luring us right into the Fixer trap. But being “nice” doesn’t equate with having to solve problems for other people. If you find yourself struggling with how to be nice and also set boundaries, look to your network or colleagues and friends for inspiration. Who in your orbit do you consider “nice” that also draws clear lines around what they can and cannot get involved in? What are the qualities they demonstrate that make them “nice”? How do they communicate boundaries? Thinking through these questions allows you to break from the autopilot of “fixing is nice, not fixing is not nice” and consider how you can be authentic to yourself and still set some limits.
Let go of “it’s just faster if I do it myself”
Then there are those situations where we’re clear on our limits, but when we notice something going wrong in our team that would be so easy to just jump in and fix, we can’t resist. Resist it. Continually jumping in because we think it’s just faster to do it ourselves works for a little while, but over time, people stop solving problems for themselves and expect you to do it, even when you no longer want to or have the time. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. It might take a few extra minutes walking through the steps with someone else on how to fix or solve something, but once we are done, we get all of that future time back to go shine somewhere more meaningful.
Teach others how to fish
This brings us to teaching others ‘the magic.’ You’re really fast at fixing the router in the office when the WiFi goes out, or getting people’s slides connected to the projector? Awesome! Spread the wealth. Host lunchtime learning sessions for people on some of the things you’ve learned to do quickly so others can run with these tasks as well. Show your team how you set up the work tracker and ask for a volunteer to run the process the next quarter. The more we empower others to step up, the easier it is to ask for support from our colleagues and managers to offload some of the work because we remove ourselves from being a bottleneck.
Breaking out of the Fixer role comes down to getting comfortable with setting boundaries and empowering others. When we do it, we see there is so much more space to demonstrate everything else we bring to the table. Instead of raising your hand as a volunteer, raise your hand for stretch projects and growth opportunities. Have a conversation with your manager about where you want to go in your career so they can get on board in supporting you. It’s never too late to reset, but it requires taking the situation by the reins and making a change. Once you do it, you’ll show your potential is limitless.
This guest post was authored by Lia Garvin
For over a decade, Lia Garvin has explored the power of reframing to overcome common challenges found in the modern workplace as an author, operations leader, and sought-after speaker. She has worked with some of the most influential companies in tech including Microsoft, Apple and Google and has made it her mission to humanize the workplace, one conversation at a time. Garvin launched the world’s first holographic computer, while leading initiatives around team inclusion and organizational effectiveness. Recognized by the National Diversity Council as a 2021 DEI Champion, Garvin has spearheaded diversity and inclusion programs and has coached employees on how to drive impactful work and thrive while working in tech. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Media Studies from the New College of California. Garvin is a Co-Active and ICF certified professional coach and a certification in Hatha yoga.