Mastering Where You're At
I recently had a chat with a coworker who was struggling with where she wanted to take her career. She felt that she was good at her role but wasn’t sure if that’s what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Some days, she felt she was really winning, and other days, she felt so discouraged that she wasn’t sure if it was the right path for her life at all.
On one hand, she felt a pull to take it to the next level and become more of a leader in her space. On the other, she was considering shifting her focus to an entirely different subject matter and seeing how effective she could be there (greener grass, right?).
She asked my advice on which one of these roads to take and my answer was simple. If you want to be in this role for the rest of your life, then become REALLY good at it. If you don’t want to be in this role for the rest of your life, then become REALLY good at it. The answer is the same, because nothing else in life will create more opportunity and open more doors for you than to take the current knowledge and skill set you have and master where you’re at.
I remember the anxiety I felt when my then Creative Director announced that he was moving on to work for another company. I was still really new to the job (and actually still really new to the entire web design world), but I knew I was a viable candidate to take on more responsibility and to help fill the leadership gap. I love the technical and creative aspects of web design and I loved doing the work, but I’m a natural leader and the evolvement of my role into something more leadership-centric was an inevitability.
The President of the company called me into his office shortly after the current CD had made his announcement and told me he was ready for me to take on more responsibility and more of a leadership role. He told me he was still considering his options to fill the actual position of Creative Director, but that he was promoting me to Senior Web Designer (fancy, I know) and he would be relying on my feedback and direction to the other team members for the time being.
I knew right then that I had a choice — I could prove myself and make this decision easy for him or I could stay in my safe zone and do only as much as I was asked to do.
There are types of people who are wired to stay in their safe zone and to do exactly what they’re told. In fact, you need these types of people in your company who will be performers and simply meet the high standards of expectation that have been set. But this isn’t me. I’m going to do what is asked of me and rise to the occasion, but I’m also going to push the boundaries to show that I have more to give and that I’ll always go above and beyond.
Going above and beyond communicates two things — you’re willing to serve and you’re passionate about the work. It shows your leader that your paycheck isn’t the most important part of your job. It shows them that you’re committed to why the company exists and what drives it forward. My conscience won't allow me to only do as much as is expected of me and leave the rest to be figured out by my leadership. I’m wired to think and serve beyond that. I’m wired to continually ask how I can lighten the load for my leader and serve the vision alongside them. And if that means taking a risk to push the boundary of my current role, then I’ll do that. Actually, it always requires that risk. The key here is to balance assertiveness and restraint — have an eagerness to push beyond expectation, but a humility that knows when to sit back and learn. Push in a way that says “I’m here and I’m willing to do more. I’ll take that on. What else can I do to help?”, not in a way that is brazenly assumptive or arrogant. And if your drive is truly passion and servanthood, then it won't be.
Needless to say, about a month later, the President comes into my office and sits down in the chair next to me. His teary eyes and humble posture in that moment is very vivid in my mind. He tells me how grateful he is for me and about the past month of considering his options to fill the role of Creative Director. He told me that while considering outside options, he simply couldn’t ignore looking around to see that the position was actually already being filled by me because I had stepped up. I made the decision for him because I decided to take the knowledge and the skill set I had, master where I was at and step beyond the expectation.