When was the last time you considered your job as a long-term career? Are you actively pursuing opportunities for growth and advancement, or are you solely focused on completing your daily tasks?
Have you recently taken the time to reflect on your job and approach it with intentionality? Are you waiting for your manager to initiate conversations about career progression? Then, your professional strategy is flawed.
It’s important to take ownership of your career development and actively seek out opportunities for growth and advancement. Remember, your career is a journey, not just a job.
I’ve learned from my experiences that for a lot of people, myself included, the line between work and personal life is incredibly blurry. We talk about work-life balance all the time, but we don’t always do what we need to actually balance our professional and personal lives. At one point, my job was taking up 95% of my time, and I didn’t even care because I was in love with what I was working on. That’s what happens when you’re intrinsically motivated — you follow your passions and increase your personal investment and engagement in a project. As long as I was interested in the problem and had a strong comprehension of my sequence of “why” questions, it was game on.
Some people are highly committed to their work without even realizing that they spend many hours thinking about it. Others strive to find a balance between work and personal life or are motivated by external factors. It’s all about finding what works best for you. And it’s okay to take your job seriously; nobody should judge your choices.
But let’s ask the real question — Are you happy following the traditional career path? Are you approaching your job as a career and making strategic moves toward personal growth and advancement? Remember the feeling of landing a new job or receiving a pay increase; all that excitement. Did you lose it somewhere along the way because things got boring or exhausting, and now you’re just winging it? Or do you want more out of work life while still pursuing your career goals and maintaining a childlike excitement for your work?
Everyone has different career aspirations that shape their growth. But what actions can you take to advance your profession without depleting your energy and still doing what you love? I had all these questions, so I started digging and researching what a fun and fulfilling career growth path would look like for me.
1. Change your perspective on career growth
I recently read an article by Anne-Laure Le Cunff at Ness Labs about growth loops and how they can help us think differently about career growth. Rather than following the traditional, linear, and hierarchical career path within a specific industry or organization, Anne suggests adopting an alternative perspective — the circular growth model — when considering career growth.
The linear model of career growth assumes that progress is made by steadily climbing the ranks, and accumulating experience, skills, and seniority over time. In contrast, the circular model recognizes that growth is not always a straight line. Instead, it’s a model of learning that allows you to define what growth means to you and enjoy the processes you go through.
In a circular model of growth, there is no “up” or “down.” Everyone is at a particular point of their unique growth loop, and nobody is more advanced than anyone else. People only compete against themselves. You design your own personal growth process, which allows you to grow at your own pace and make more interest-based career advancements. You’ll feel less peer pressure, which can take the edge off and allow you to have a more fulfilling career.
As a product designer, you can apply the circular model of growth to your career. Instead of just focusing on becoming a skilled product designer, you can also develop storytelling skills, which can help you communicate design decisions better. Additionally, product management experience can make you better at product strategy and a more valuable designer. You can change your perspective on career advancement by thinking about how your skills and interests can build on one another and direct the path that you follow. By adopting a circular growth mindset, you’ll have more room to grow at your own pace, make more interest-based career advancements, and lead a more fulfilling career — and that’s the dream.
2. Set an ambitious goal for yourself
Set an ambitious goal for yourself that serves as your North Star, a dream that keeps you motivated and wondering about the possibilities. It doesn’t have to be a well-thought-out goal with a concrete plan on how to achieve it. It should be elaborate, very ambitious, and grand. It’s the peak of success. This will keep you motivated and make you wonder what the possibilities could be if you were to achieve that goal.
Always have a goal, whether it’s a grand one or a yearly goal that ties back to your North Star goal. It could be small or big, but having a goal helps to keep you motivated and your heart pumping. You know what they say, having something to look forward to keeps life interesting. The more ambitious your dreams/goals are, the more fun there is to be had. And who knows? You might just achieve them!
3. Be strategic
To achieve your ambitious long-term goal you’ve got to get strategic. Remember that progress is a journey and every small step counts.
Start by making small strategic moves. Figure out what skill sets you need to be an outstanding employee at your current organization. Take on tasks that force you to expand and refine your skills. By doing this, you will learn more about what you already know and set yourself up for a positive appraisal or promotion if there’s one to come, making yourself a more valuable employee.
Recruit other people to help you achieve your goals. Your manager may be too busy to point out areas where you’re slacking and need improvement. Regularly inquire about areas where you’re outstanding and need to improve with your managers. If there’s something you’d like to learn from someone, a peer, or a more senior colleague, learn from them. Don’t ask them to be your mentor. Instead, ask specific questions that show them you’re stuck and need help. Asking questions is the best way to get anyone to spare time for education.
Knowing what skills you need to master at different stages of your career to improve your process is better than doing what everyone else is doing or what is popular. This is being strategic about your own goals and a reason why you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone else.
4. Make yourself visible
Visibility is more than merely speaking up at every meeting or taking on every task to demonstrate that you’re working. Being visible means not letting impostor syndrome or fear rob you of your ideas or keep you buried behind the scenes. If you’re like me and consider yourself a producer rather than an actor, you could act like it even in meetings and hide. You’re not making enough of an impression. I enjoy working behind the scenes so much that I didn’t realize it wasn’t the greatest decision. However, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve matured, especially for someone with as many interests as I do, that some kind of visibility is crucial for career growth.
Show off your talents when necessary. Don’t be scared to declare you’re good at anything. This, however, is not a justification to fake it until you make it. Instead, devote time to learning and honing your skills/talents. Get so excellent that when someone thinks you’re not that good, you can confidently disagree because you know you’re incredibly good. They just haven’t had the opportunity to see how terrific you are yet.
Being visible is one of the quickest ways to advance in your career and job.
5. Highlight skills you’ve learned at every job
Whether you like it or not, you learn on the job. Consistently refining your current skills and continuously learning on the job is important. Being able to highlight the new skills you’ve learned helps you identify growth, even in the smallest way.
Highlighting what I’ve learned in every job I’ve ever accepted helps me see what new and interesting skills I learned that enhance my value as a product designer. It also helps me identify the small progress I’ve made. This may seem small, but it’s very important for your excitement. Growth is a journey, and every win is a win.
At Andela for example, if you’re a member of the Andela Talent Network, you can take assessments to prove your skills and showcase your knowledge directly to employers. When you pass a test, you earn a badge of honour on your Andela profile.
What new skills did you learn in the companies that you worked at or refined? The new skills you’re learning will eventually build on each other and allow you to advance while keeping your interest and curiosity alive. Advancing in your career and being a diverse candidate makes you more valuable in every role you take. Taking note of the new skills you’re learning at every job keeps you informed on what your next step should be and makes it easy to identify your contribution to the organization you work for. You don’t have to rack your brain to update your resume or be lost in the appraisal meeting. You know what new skills you’ve refined and how you used them. If you’re paying attention, you can clap for yourself and kick imposter syndrome to the curb when it comes knocking. Easy peasy.
6. Define work-life balance for yourself
This might seem like a no-brainer, but take a step back and think about what work-life balance means to you. It’s one of the key things you need to consider when thinking about career growth. What does work-life balance look like for you right now? How will it change in the next few months with external and intrinsic factors in your life? Are you the kind of person who doesn’t mind letting work consume all your time and energy? If so, your career growth will look different from someone who has more personal activities outside of work. Use it to your advantage!
Set up a plan that lets you upskill by having pet projects of your own. These could be anything, like brainstorming new feature ideas or untapped opportunity areas, putting together a draft of the opportunity areas, the problem, and the solution pitching it to your managers, or learning a new skill that ties back to your career goal.
It’s totally fine if you love working so much you choose to do something work-related in your spare time. But be careful not to burn out. When you’re aware that you could get engrossed in the work you’re doing, having a plan helps direct that energy to all the right places and could be a game changer. Remember, career advancement is a journey of achieving your personal goals, not basics for being an asshole to your colleagues.
7. It’s a journey; a process.
Just a friendly reminder that your career is just as much a part of life as anything else. It’s important to think about what growth means to you and set some goals. Take a look back on your journey every year, see what you’ve learned, and highlight the skills you’ve gained both in and out of work. Don’t forget to be strategic about your growth, make yourself visible, and define what work-life balance means to you.