Have you ever felt frustrated by the lack of progress in your career?
You go through the daily grind and work as hard as anybody. Maybe your job pays well, and you’re really good at what you do, but looking down the line, you don’t see yourself getting any further.
It’s possible to be engaged with your current job yet still fail to make headway in the context of your career.
Leaders invest in experience solutions for their employees because they know that ultimately, engagement drives performance. But your boss is only concerned about how that relates to your current company.
If no path exists for you vertically, if there’s no ladder to climb in the organization, you’ll remain a well-oiled cog in someone else’s smoothly working machine.
Mastering your mentality
When we strive for improvement, or seek out work to apply and master certain skills while accruing accomplishments, progress can be stepwise or haphazard.
Doing that is certainly better than standing still. But it needs to be accompanied by a mentality of engagement with the big picture of your career.
This means seeing past your current job: your tasks and responsibilities, the skills you’re required to exercise, the opportunities being afforded you.
It’s a matter of mindset and ownership. Even in the best scenario, supervisors and mentors at work are only likely to assist your development in your role within the organization. If you aspire to something greater, you have to act as your own coach and stay on top of your career game plan.
The career game
What keeps workers engaged at any company?
Every employer values engagement, so you have to look around you for examples of best practices in this realm. Think from the leader’s perspective, and see how you can apply those principles to your career.
One tactic that’s nearly universal in its application is recognition. Being recognized for performance boosts confidence and motivates us to work harder.
This is often taken a step further using the popular ‘gamification’ method and turned into a competition. Within an organization, peers engaged in the same task can be measured and ranked, and top performers rewarded. When it works, it becomes a positive feedback loop.
Adopting this method seems straightforward, but you still need to do it correctly to really turn your career into a game you love to play.
Companies will align the game’s mechanics with their goals. In your case, that means defining the direction you want to head for in your career, and tracking progress and tying in your rewards system to those milestones.
You also want to be careful with the way you reward yourself for making progress in your career. Material rewards, such as permitting yourself a shopping indulgence, don’t scale well over time. Humans quickly become habituated to such things. Instead, organizations use gamification to reward people with some form of status.
You can apply this principle by restricting your use of social media, for instance. While you’re grinding away, don’t post any updates because doing so effectively gives you a dopamine hit before you’ve even accomplished something. Once you’ve reached a target, like learning a new skill or finishing a personal project, you can post about it and enjoy the recognition of your peers.
Engaging with the big picture
Despite their efforts to engage workers, most organizations tend to suffer two drawbacks: they are hierarchical, and the jobs offered seem meaningless.
This has given rise to the scatological term “bull**** jobs,” made popular by the eponymous bestseller by David Graeber. A job might not be pointless, but it can feel that way if you are stuck at a fixed level with no hope of advancement.
Instead of feeling powerless to break through into your organization’s upper levels, you can engage with the bigger picture of your career.
Search for a purpose not in your current role and functions but in where you are headed. Avoid constant comparisons to others who might be advancing faster than you. Instead, seek role models and build relationships, and maintain them even outside your organization.
Right now, your job is just a temporary stop on the undulating wave that is your career. You have the agency to push its trajectory upward.
Faced with a lack of progress day-to-day, or a major setback like the pandemic? Don’t feel crushed by anxiety. Instead, keep finding one thing to work on, getting better one specific way at a time.
Zoom out of the daily toil and keep things in perspective. On average, we have 80,000 hours in our careers. Chances are, you have plenty of time to be more engaged and invest in improvement and can still reap the rewards in the long term.