MORE OR LESS
Whenever I find myself having the same conversations over and over again, I know it’s time for another blog post! Lately I’ve spent quite a bit of time with team members who are setting their professional goals and priorities for 2017. Some know exactly where they are headed next and are working closely with their manager to identify where they need to grow. Others seem more “curious” about where “the company” thinks they should be headed. I always encourage people to take their careers into their own hands and proactively pursue their next step. If they don’t have a crystal clear vision of where they are headed, they should take an honest skills inventory to determine what they’ve mastered and where they still need to focus, and ask for management feedback of any additional skills that need refining so that someday the decision to promote them into the next position is an easy one.
Often people get stuck in the rut of just doing what they think they should be doing. Once we get good at doing something, others will continue to rely on us for that task, and that can be great if you absolutely love doing it. But when you are ready to move on, or when you realize that you might not be loving that element of your job anymore, you are your own best advocate to make your aspirations known. I learned this lesson growing up when my parents signed me up for softball. My sister played, and my grandmother had actually been a professional pitcher, so it seemed like an obvious path. And as it turned out, I was pretty good at it. Trouble was, I didn’t like the sport. I was getting all these praises for my talent, but I wasn’t enjoying playing. My parents were big on the idea that you had to finish anything you started, so every season I couldn’t wait until it was over, and swore that I wouldn’t sign up the next year, but then I’d find myself going through the motions and ending up back on the team because that’s what was expected. One year I finally went to my mom mid-season and told her I just couldn’t do it anymore. The coach was extra hard on me because he seemed to think that because I had more natural talent, I should be held to a higher standard and I was done. After much pleading, she said I could quit, but that I had to tell the coach. I knew he would be so disappointed, because the team really needed me that year. But I really wanted to spend more time focusing on gymnastics, and I couldn’t do both well. So I had to sum up the courage and face him with the truth. I will never forget the look of disappointment on his face when I said, “Dad, I quit.” But he understood that I wasn’t just asking to sit at home watching cartoons, but that I wanted to spend more time doing something that really interested me. So even though my softball team didn’t make the playoffs that year, I went on to become a state-qualifying gymnast.
When people seem uncertain about how to get to the next level, I suggest that they honestly ask themselves two questions: “What do you want to do more of?” and “What do you want to do less of?” Once that becomes clear, you can start to see a path to an outcome. You certainly can’t expect that suddenly one day you can stop doing something critical that everyone relies on you for, but you can work with management on a plan to transition some or all of a certain responsibility over time to others that perhaps are aspiring to learn that skill. As you free up more time, you will have capacity to take on new projects that will continue your growth process.