Grow Your Career Without Changing Jobs
Not all progression is linear. The seasons are cyclical, for instance, yet we feel the progress of moving through time. The moon moves through a series of cycles, as do myriad weather patterns. There are even cycles found in war, in business, in music and rhythm. The same can be said for the long-term arc of our careers: we are somehow impoverished if the only measure of progress is in linear and vertical forms; if the only way we can grow is through a series of successive promotions. What about those who enjoy their jobs? Those who are good at their jobs? Those whose day jobs aren’t the only or primary mode of self-expression? Why should they be promoted out of what they enjoy?
And yet, even those who enjoy their work or have little interest in vertical promotion can suffer from waning motivation, from a nagging doubt that perhaps they’ve done this work for too long, from the feeling of being in a rut. The first thing to acknowledge is that these feelings are natural, and are likely to come and go many times over the course of a career. They don’t automatically signal that something is foundationally wrong with you, your job, or your broader set of career choices. For some, the answer really isn’t a different job or a promotion. Instead, the answer lies in rekindling interest in your current role—in reigniting the potential already present within you and the work awaiting you in the here and now.
Solve Problems No One Else Will
It’s amazing how many problems simply go unsolved in organizations today. This is a function of many things—time constraints, shifting priorities, confusion, lack of skill, and very importantly, lack of interest. Often, the thornier the problem, the less interest in solving the problem. As the problem persists, however, it becomes a heavier and heavier burden for the manager and the team. Ask yourself: what keeps your manager up at night? How confident are you in your answer? When was the last time you put this question to your manager? Is it time to ask again? When you hear the answers, write them down and home in on the ones that no one owns, or where ownership seems unclear or diffused. This intersection—what’s worrying your manager and is lacking in clear ownership—is an opportunity to make an impact, reignite interest in your current role, and develop new skills along the way. If you can solve problems like this—whether it takes a week or a month or a year—several benefits are sure to flow your way. Among them are recognition from your manager, appreciation from the team, a better performance appraisal at year’s end, and the satisfaction that comes from making the world around you a little bit better.
Participate In Non-Traditional Forms Of Development
Too often, the word ‘development’ connotes participation in a training class or attending a week-long conference in a warm climate. Not only is this kind of development expensive and, consequently, infrequent, but it often doesn’t achieve the desired effect. These kinds of developmental experiences, while sometimes useful, are often generic and, being divorced from the workplace, easily forgotten. The best development usually happens on the job, which again reminds us just how valuable and engaging your current role can be. Volunteering to participate in a project team may add to your workload, but it will also add to your mix of developmental experiences, especially if you contribute beyond the minimum expectations of your role in the project. Offering to present at an upcoming staff meeting in a natural area of expertise positions you as someone who is willing to teach, share, and give. There is a saying, “When we teach, we learn.” You develop new skills simply through teaching others in what may already be an area of strength for you. Conversely, if you’re struggling with a chronic area of weakness—and you believe that this weakness is impeding your performance—ask yourself, “Who does this well?” This person may be on your current team, or an adjacent one. They may be in another department altogether and you have no relationship with them. Regardless, invite them to coffee. Get to know them. Compliment them on their strength in X. Ask if they will share tips and insights on how they do X well, how they became proficient in the first place. Absorb all that you can, and imitate those behaviors that make sense for you. Imitation isn’t just the highest form of flattery—sometimes, it’s the highest form of learning.
Doing any or all of the above will disrupt your internal dialogue about your current role, helping to renew the innate interest and appreciation you (until recently) had for your work. And it will also position you as someone who initiates action—a skill unto itself—which can only help when your manager is thinking through things like performance ratings, merit increases, and work assignments in the future.