I recently had an interesting conversation with one person I was coaching on a career decision. We worked together for some time and he had a clear plan on where he wants to go with his career. Then rather unexpectedly, an opportunity came by that was exactly on his career path. However, it came up a year or two earlier than he thought he will be ready. This created an obvious ambivalent feelings. At one side it was huge push for his career, at the other it came with anxiety and feeling of not being ready. He summarized it nicely in “Tomas, I’m excited by the opportunity but also a bit nervous.” And my response was “Great!”
What is your career aspiration?
There are many articles written on the topic of not planning your career since in today’s fast moving world you can’t predict what will be in five years and you shouldn’t limit your options. You should just grab opportunities as they come. I can’t subscribe to that notion. Yes, planning your career in terms of “in ten years I want to be a CEO of our company,” is not a smart move since things are changing fast and in ten years you may not even be with the company and may work in completely different field.
What you should do when it comes to your career is to understand your career aspirations and have a clear direction you are heading in terms of “what am I good at”, “where can I contribute”, and “what makes me satisfied”. It should never be about getting a fancy title or loads of money since these are moving targets. If your career goal is to be a Manager, the moment you get there it will move and you will start thinking on how to be a Director. You will be always chasing something and ultimately be unhappy most of the time.
Having a career aspiration that focuses on things related to growing as a person and contributing to society is much more fulfilling and has a bigger chance to lead to constant happiness. To illustrate on my example, my career aspiration is to “build something and to learn something”. You can imagine how frustrating it is for my boss to have a career conversation with me, but that is the answer he gets. This career aspiration is aligned with my core values that are all around “being useful” and “helping others” and it satisfies my hunger for knowledge as I’m an incredibly curious person.
It is important to note that career aspirations are much broader than getting to the next level on the career ladder and they have overlap to your non-work part of the life. Your career aspiration might be even things like “freedom”, “financial security”, or “living and working according to my values”.
Once you are clear on what your career aspirations are you understand the general direction in which you are heading and can chose jobs accordingly. Sometimes it helps the conversation to have a specific type of job in mind, but don’t fall into a trap to make the title also the goal. In my case, I sometimes mention that my long-term goal is to get to COO or CTO type of role. These roles embody the type of work that would allow me “to build and to learn” and they give me a focus. They help me to understand what skills I need to work on. However, I do not have a specific plan how to become a CTO and if it doesn’t happen I won’t be disappointed. Once again, it is not about the title but about the type of work you do and what is at one company called COO can be at another called Head of Operations.
The importance of being uncomfortable
The only way you learn is by being uncomfortable. I’m so convinced about this that I already wrote on the topics couple of articles such as this one. Is it bad to be comfortable at your job? Not at all, but consider what is important to you. During our lives we go through various phases and our priorities change. Sometimes we live for our work, we want to prove ourselves, we want to have a great career progress, learn and grow. Sometimes we want a bit more stability, want to focus on our kids and families, and want to do a good job at work without the need to climb the career ladder.
It is important for you to realize in which phase you are and why. If you say that your focus at this stage of your life are your small kids then it is completely fine to find your sweet spot at work and be comfortable there knowing that you are good at what you do, you are doing a good job, but you don’t need to push your limits to get outside your comfort zone to get the next promotion. It is just not important to you at this stage in your life. At the other hand, if you feel that now is the time to move your career forward, you absolutely must get out of your comfort zone, keep challenging yourself to learn and go above and beyond the requirements of your job. That is the way you will grow and that is the way to get ahead.
So should you take the job offer if you feel a bit nervous about your ability to get the job done? It depends. But if you are in your “moving your career forward” phase then the answer is “Definitely!” In fact, I would urge you to not taking a job that makes you feel very comfortable. Chances are you will learn nothing, get bored fast, be unhappy and leave soon.
What is your experience? Have you ever taken on a role that you felt you are not qualified for? How did it feel? Have you even not taken a bigger role because you felt not being ready and later regretted that decision?
Originally posted at LinkedIn.