People often think that career growth is linear. They see career ladders or career maps and think that there is one straight (and narrow) road to get to the next level.
In reality, the path to career growth is anything but linear. Sometimes growing in your career is about moving up and title changes and promotions. And sometimes it’s more about the opportunity to learn and grow in new areas.
One thing I know for sure is that growing your career is a long-game that takes a ton of time and effort.
And people are always trying to help by sharing their own advice for growing your career. How many articles like “3 Tips for Career Conversations with Your Manager” or “How to Get Promoted in a Year” have you read?
But maybe it’s time to stop looking outward and focus inward. I find that most of the time the reason I’m not growing or advancing is because I’m in my own way. To put it simply, the best career advice I ever got was this: “get out of your own way.”
I recently asked some people in my network what this advice looked like for them. And one response, around promotions, really stood out:
“I was consistently a top performer, but I wasn’t a leader and when I was passed by for several promotions I became angry, took it personally and didn’t listen to the feedback until I realized I expected it to be given to me for working so hard.”
When other people are promoted around us, or we’re “passed up” for stretch assignments or cool new projects, we often take it personally. I’ve been guilty of this, and I’ve managed people who also have had this reaction.
Ego kills all growth. Ego tells us “we deserve this.” Ego tells us “we are better than the person who got that promotion before us.”
Let the ego go, and try on humility and a growth mindset instead. Humility tells us “there is always room to get better.” And humility drives us to learn from others who are better than us.
It’s also important to talk about something else here. Hard work doesn’t equal promotion. Our pride and ego can get in the way here too. We may not be asking where we need to get better. We may just be working hard and expecting to be rewarded for our hard work. Growing your career is about both the results you are producing through hard work AND a clear articulation of where you need to get better. Skills need to be developed. You have to do things you weren’t doing before. Hard work alone won’t be enough.
When I was working at Amazon, we would coach people to always be clear on what their development areas were. And we believed this was also something they needed to be aligned with their manager on. The guidance was, that at any time, we should be able to ask both the employee and their manager what their top development areas were. And those areas should match whether the answer was coming from the employee or their manager. This alignment can only be there when you get out of your own way and ask where you need to get better to grow your career.
I’ve been in Learning and Development, coaching people through conversations like this, for 9 years. And I’ve also experienced it first-hand myself. I remember very clearly earlier in my career thinking I was owed promotion because I was doing many of the same things that my peer was doing who was at a level higher than me.
I was in this mindset for one year in that role. Then the annual review process came and went, and no promotion. I realized at that time, I had been in my own way. I was only looking at what I was good at instead of evaluating the gap between where I was and the next step for growth. I was also putting the full ownership for my career growth on my manager.
So, I got out of my own way, and got really clear on my gaps and created an action plan for the next 6 months of career growth and the path to the promotion I wanted. After executing on that plan, I got the promotion and was able to take on a management role shortly after all because of the actions I had taken. Looking back, getting out of my own way in that role was a critical milestone in my career.
So now you’re probably thinking, “That’s great Kari, but HOW do I actually get out of my own way?”
Well for starters:
1. Get really good at introspection, self-awareness: Self-awareness is the first step to personal growth and development. Mastering self-reflection and assessing your strengths and weaknesses will take you far in your professional life.
- Make this a daily habit. Ask yourself daily what you are learning and what you need to adjust for the next day based on what you learned.
- Be aware of your superpowers. Self-assess. Ask others. And use these superpowers. These should be your fuel for growth.
- Be aware of your weaknesses and what trips you up.
2. Get in regular development conversations with your manager: It’s easy to de-prioritize these conversations or assume that daily feedback is enough to be clear on your longer-term growth goals. It’s important to supplement ongoing feedback with intentional career growth and development conversations.
- Have regular development conversations with your manager outside of weekly 1:1s which are typically focused on projects and deliverables.
- Follow the Amazon practice mentioned above, and make sure you and your manager are regularly aligned on where you need to get better. Highlighting your top 3 development areas.
- Take ownership of these conversations and drive them. Don’t wait around for your manager to do this.
3. Set some career development goals: You can’t expect to get somewhere and not be clear on where you’re going, what you’re even after, or how you will get there. That’s true for almost anything in life, and your career is no exception. Take it on as if you were the project manager of your career.
- Ask yourself, “What am I not doing now that I want to be doing in 12 months?”
- Ask yourself, “What am I doing now that I don’t want to be doing in 12 months?”
- Make a plan. Nothing happens by accident. Do you need a mentor? A coach? How will you actually achieve these goals?
While it might not be the easiest or most natural thing to “get out of your own way” it is a critical part of growing your career. Instead of only looking at what is happening outside of you, starting looking internally and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow.
How have you gotten out of your own way to grow in your career? What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received? Let me know by messaging me here.