Originally published on LinkedIn – March 8, 2016
Over the last 15 years of my career, I can say I have almost always been reaching for the next rung on a ladder. Each year I earn a little more money. Each year I have a little more responsibility. Each move I make has been a little higher up the old chain of command. Now, I did take laterals. I did relocate. I also read books and sought out learning opportunities. But everything I did was in the pursuit of excelling where I was and moving up.
Somewhere along the way, I decided this is how it should be.
When I was a child, my father was a full time officer in the Army National Guard. I enjoyed learning that for each rank there was a next rank above. I would ask my father to tell me the list. I would ask questions about when he would promote to the next rank. I attended his promotional ceremonies to see him get his new medal. One day, as I was a little older, I asked when his next promotion would be. When he explained he had probably gone as high as he would go, I remember feeling….well… disappointed. Not for him, but, just in general, that there were no more rungs to reach for.
I think about this often as I have been in my pursuit of my own next step. I’ve been reaching for the next rung for many years by truly building up a function. But, because I have been so concentrated on one are of the business, it’s been hard for others to see me as doing anything except that function. In my case, it’s Internal Communications.
I’m the communication guy. And to some, that’s all I’ll ever be.
1. Step back for experience to change your personal brand.
I jumped off my ladder and onto another one. I stepped backward because somehow, along my path, I made my function too much of who I am. When promotional opportunities were coming available, no one was thinking of me. Why would they? I’m Mr. Communication. Why would I ever want to lead marketing or operations? But maybe I do.
If you have been in one area of the business or one industry for years and years, you may have a specific professional brand. When the next opportunity comes up, if it’s not in your function, you may not even get the consideration, let alone the job. It’s just the way our minds operate. We naturally file information based on what we have already experienced. If you have always been the finance guy, people don’t file your ability under, say, sales. And even if it is in your function, there are no guarantees.
2. Step back to find your own happiness.
I loved what I did. Mostly, because I love leading a team and I had a great team. But really, I loved the contribution I believed the team was making to the business. I realized that I had been in the same functional area for several years and I was fighting to hold onto that same passion that comes with a new challenge. I was taking criticism more personally than I did before. I was defensive about the ‘way things were done’. I wasn’t gaining the same happiness from the actual work that I once had. I didn’t want to turn into one of those people that hate their job. I knew for my own sake and the sake of a company I cared about, I had to make a change.
If you aren’t as happy as you used to be, if you are dreading your Monday morning or counting down to your Friday, it might be time. You owe it to yourself, your company, and your family to take an honest look at your happiness level. If you can make a change to contribute to your own happiness, you should do so.
3. Step back to learn something new.
I have a passion for Internal Communication. They way employees are informed about their company intrigues me. I believe Internal Communications holds a company together. Basically, employees are counting on the communications they receive to keep them updated on how to excel at their job and create the best possible customer experience. I love that.
But I also love other things like innovation, leadership development, layout and design, event marketing and so many other areas of the business. I realized it was time to funnel my passion into another area of interest.
If there is something else calling to you, another part of the business you find intriguing, consider what it would take to get there. It might mean you have to climb down off that ladder you’ve been on and go climb up another. You have to be good with that. You have to weigh the rung you are on against the ladder you are climbing. Sometimes, to do something you love, you may have to do it at a lower level and become the learner. I always say you should never stop learning, so get good with the change and emerge yourself in something new. It won’t be long until you’re racing up the new ladder.
4. Step back for the success of your company.
Let’s face it, new people bring new perspective. That’s true both in what you do now and what you will do in the future. If you have been doing the same kind of work for a long time, you may find it repetitive and monotonous. There may be little or no evolution in your thinking. I realized there were more things I wanted to do in communication, but most of my time was spent maintaining the current approach. I wasn’t casting huge grandiose visions like I had once done. My visions had been realized and the foundation laid. Stepping back could help your company succeed in two ways.
First, if you step away from your area of the business, you are freeing up a space for someone to come in and replace you. Now I know, no one could ever be as amazing as you. But, maybe, just maybe, someone could come in with some new ideas. Someone can look at it with a different point of view based on their diverse background. If this happens, do not become defensive or angry. This is the cycle of business. You were once new with new ideas and visions and you did great things as evidenced by your continued employment. Be thankful for the adventures you had and leave with a glad heart that someone else can follow in your footsteps and be successful.
Second, you are the new guy or girl again. You are entering a new area of the business with a new perspective. You can get excited about what you bring to the team and how you can really enhance and make a difference. Remember to be a learner and respect the history of the function, but feel confident in sharing your ideas. You have great transferable skills that can help you succeed.
Step back to step forward.
What do you want to do with your life every day? I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase ‘no one is keeping score’. Well, maybe some people are, but those people don’t matter. In the game of life, you are your own score keeper. I am starting to assign fewer points to dollars and titles, which is really difficult for me, and more points to happiness, contribution, family, and life experiences. Love yourself, your family, and your friends. Love what you do.
Best of luck in all you do. May your corporate ladder be easy to climb and just the right height.
Feedback is love so please comment, critique, like and share. Visit me at www.leadhappier.com (it’s a work in progress).