“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

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“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

That’s good advice all the time, in work projects, personal obligations, and sandwiches. “Biting off more than you can chew” leads to choking, which is terrible in both the literal and figurative meanings. But here’s the thing–you have to know how much you can chew, not how much you can promise to chew when you’re feeling really positive and hyped up on energy drinks after four days of no sleep. 

Ever suffered from a Superhero Complex? I do. That’s when I start to list all the things I’m going to do today and suddenly realize it would take a week to reasonably get through the list I marked “before lunch.” It’s not that I think so highly of myself that I make promises my skills can’t keep, it’s that I have already thought through all the steps, which never occurs to me is much faster than doing the steps in the real world, I’m charged by the excitement of the situation, and I want to be a Superhero to someone in some small way at that moment. Sound familiar?

There’s a worse version of that, and it happens all the time. I’ve done it. You’ve done it, too. You say the words, “Sure I can do that,” while thinking, “I bet it’s on YouTube anyway.” The boss thinks you can do something, you really hope you can do that something, you know you can learn anything if you try, you know the Internet is vast and probably going to have the answers somewhere, and what you really don’t want to do is tell them you don’t know what you’re doing when they’ve casually assumed you can do something you can’t. Smile, nod, look it up later.

Ok, so we’re all guilty of wanting to maintain people’s opinion of us when they think we’re smart. So sue us. For most stuff, that’s no big deal anyway. It WAS on YouTube, thank you very much, and after a handful of tutorials I’ll be fine. I didn’t really lie about my skills, I told the truth a little prematurely.

Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? That’s when you know so little about something that you don’t know how little you know. Imagine someone reading a pamphlet on the bus and saying, “Brain surgery isn’t as hard as everyone says it is.” To be fair, we live in a society of snippets, so it’s not weird for someone to hear a summary and think they have the gist, but the gist is not the same as being capable of effectively performing brain surgery. Those are the folks at the party talking about a subject like they are experts, but they run out of factoids when they’re done reciting the one article, and if you try to talk about anything that wasn’t in the article, then YOU are the one who doesn’t know what you are talking about.

They sound like idiots, and they think they sound smart. Like it or not, you’ve been that person at least once. We all have. At a party, that’s embarrassing. At work, that can be devastating.

If you are in an IT position, or have assumed IT duties because someone had to do it, and your understanding comes from Google searches, I commend you on your determination, and you will be just fine most of the time, but you need to know that the articles you read aren’t the same thing as being an engineer. We care for you–we really do–and we also care for your system. It’s hard to say and probably even harder to hear, but you may not know that there are things you don’t know, and just to avoid being that person, you should get a second opinion from an engineer.

Just because you know what all the words mean doesn’t mean you are prepared to handle something as complex as the digital storage for a large-scale creative content provider, and that’s ok. Our engineers are not filmmakers, either. If I handed an engineer a camera and told them to make a movie, and they said, “how hard can it be?” those who actually make films for a living would cringe.

Hey, you’ve bit off more than you can chew and you don’t even know it yet. We’ve all done it, we understand, and you’re forgiven. But trust us–call an engineer before something happens, lest you choke. 

And give yourself some leeway when presenting your anticipated timetable for your next project, too. You don’t have to be a Superhero, you know?

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