It’s often said that you should never continue in a job or take a new job where you feel totally at ease and confident. This seems counterintuitive. Why would anyone want to feel uneasy in a role? Don’t I want to feel confident at work? Don’t I want to have expertise in the domain in which I’m working?
Of course, the answer is yes to all of the above. It’s not only necessary to be competent at what one does but it is expected that we are more than competent and hard-working at the job we’re hired to do. But I’ve come to understand that professional growth comes not from a perfect fit of your talents and skills now, but rather from what your talents and skills can help you do in the future.
That new job should make you feel a little bit nervous and anxious precisely because you don’t know everything. Good hiring managers know this instinctively. They hire people who have the required skills, but they also hire the candidate that has the character traits to push through doubt, train extensively and work hard to grow into the job. Learning is a must in these instances. Professionalism is maintaining not only a standard of work, but an attitude of I can. Even if it means you have to ask a lot of questions, acquire extra training, learn on the job, or feel just a little uncomfortable in the immediate future. Conversely, when you feel totally comfortable in a job, it’s probably time to go. It’s time for the next challenge, a new job, where you will be required to grow.
For those of you who don’t know me, (and I’m sure many of you don’t because I’m new here) I’m Carolyn Sloan. I worked for many years as a musician, composer, educator, and children’s book author. I’ve recently started a new company that lives at the intersection of EdTech and Children’s Media. I love what I’m doing, it is clearly a culmination of all I’ve done before: educate, write, create product and digital content, etc. But there are so many new things I need to do every day, that often I feel a little terrified and sometimes confused as to what comes next, or who I need to talk to at any given moment.
I’m telling you this as a way of sharing by example that I have willingly put myself in a position where every day requires me to learn something new. From financial modeling, talking to investors, figuring out how to talk to software engineers, and the like, I find myself in uncharted territory.
I’m not suggesting that everyone or anyone should completely turn their lives upside down just to learn something new or grow. But I know based on how much I’ve learned in the past year and a half, that it’s apparent I stayed in previous jobs way past the point I should have, based on the growth factor and how successful people learn to navigate it.
I think of the Growth Factor (and yes, I’m coining this as a phrase) as the skills you have plus the skills you need that equal the job/career you want. The challenge of developing these skills and new ways of being seem (at least to me) to be ever present in women who succeed and end up running companies, inventing something new, developing vaccines or writing critically acclaimed novels.
I will admit that often it is ridiculously hard to meet the demands of the Growth Factor because its demands are so steep. It asks us to be better and know more. It asks us to pay attention to how we feel, and it requires us to act on any continuous dissatisfaction. It asks us to not settle and to not ignore for too long the signs that we are standing still, maybe even asking us to admit to ourselves we are afraid – so afraid we deny the Growth Factor and ignore its importance in our own personal and professional happiness. It asks us to risk the status quo without any guarantees.
I admit it. I am afraid. It’s a lot easier to stay in a career you know well. Where you can feel like an expert and where not a lot is expected that is out of the ordinary and where you don’t anticipate too much change. The only thing I can say is that when I try to meet the fear, work hard, and learn something new, I feel lucky because I have a choice. This is important to recognize. So many women in the workforce do not. Making a payday doesn’t always afford us choice. If we can make a choice to explore work options that excite us, it does feel good to surprise ourselves and show ourselves what we are capable of.
The Growth Factor is also peculiar – in the way that society doesn’t always support or acknowledge it. In business, people can get pigeon-holed into roles. Marketing Executive, Product Manager, Customer Success Manager, etc. The same is true in other fields like education, science, and tech.
When you want to make a change, it often feels like you have to jump the tracks and completely reinvent yourself. And you wouldn’t really be wrong. When I first said I was going to found a business, most people were skeptical, and a lot still are. Maybe I will ultimately succeed. Maybe I won’t. The point is you don’t know unless you do it. And the only way to do it is to jump the tracks, get the training you need and try. People who doubt me or others like me see only the previous roles we’ve lived. In my case, as a musician, educator, and author. Now, as a founder and CEO, I had to jump the tracks. I teach myself the things I don’t know, and surround myself with smart people who have the skills I’ve yet to attain.
So now when you think about how comfortable you are at work and look at your career trajectory and wonder what your next move might be, I say go where you feel excited, a little bit unsure, but where you’re curious and a little bit anxious. Ask yourself what skills you have and what skills you don’t and try your hand at the Growth Factor. Let it be a guiding force that encourages you to do what you always dreamed of, or maybe never dreamed of but were interested enough that the thought is still intriguing.
I certainly can confirm that life doesn’t get boring when you’re always learning. And sometimes it can seem that there is an impossible mountain to climb, but big leaps are made daily with smaller steps.