In the first six parts of this series, I focused on what I wish I knew earlier about keeping oneself out of trouble, as a precursor to a long career. I termed it “staying off the radar.” If you read these posts, much of the advice focused on what not to do, as opposed to what to do. Eventually I will get to advice on what to do, perhaps as early as next week.
This week, I want to focus on maintaining the right mindset as you strive to expand your responsibilities or to get promoted. This is definitely something I wish I put into practice earlier.
7. Be patient all the time about everything
I think this is the single most difficult piece of advice for young people to understand and believe. Every ambitious person I have met wants to move up an organizational ladder as fast as possible. They think they can do more challenging jobs. They think they are better than their boss and better than colleagues promoted ahead of them. This leads to a tremendous amount of impatience. I now know that career growth and the world in general never moves as quickly as we believe it should. I really wish I had believed others who twenty years ago told me to be patient.
On the job, there are two types of impatience: 1) day-to-day impatience and 2) career impatience. I recommend that you eliminate both. Your blood pressure and heart rate will decline, and you will be more successful.
Day-to-day impatience occurs when you are waiting for someone to return a phone call, respond to an email, review a presentation, get you some materials, etc. Sometimes these requests are open-ended, and others have deadlines. It is very frustrating when someone doesn’t get back to you as quickly as you want them to. Sometimes, it impacts deadlines for a larger project to which you have committed, and that can be a problem. When we suspect that things aren’t happening as planned, we have a tendency to repeatedly check in with that person. We have a tendency to pester and ask them if they need help.
In these instances, you are best served by relaxing, placing yourself in the other person’s shoes, trusting they will get the work done, and considering logical reasons why they haven’t responded. They could be at the doctor’s, in meetings, in bed sick, at a child’s concert, etc. Even if you put “urgent” on the message, sometimes the person just can’t get around to returning the message. They could legitimately have been asked to complete other deliverables that are more important than yours. Pestering is never good, and we know from part 4 that offering help is also a no-no. I have found that there is almost always a logical reason for someone not responding. If you can stay patient, not fire off repeated notes, texts, or voice mails, and wait, then you’ll be more respected and viewed as someone easy to work with.
Career impatience is the desire I mentioned above to be promoted or to gain more responsibilities as soon as possible. The fact is that none of us gets promoted or expands our responsibilities when we think we ready. It always happens later. I’ve come to learn that most of these decisions are right. We tend to over value our capabilities and contributions at work and over value the importance of immediate job advancement in a long-term career. Impatience for job advancement can lead you to vocalize your impatience and show your frustration, neither of which will endear yourself to your boss, their bosses, and your co-workers.
I encourage you to look around you at your company and make a realistic assessment of people’s career paths. My guess is that you will see some very good people who have been in the same job or at the same level for three, five, seven or more years. Why should you be different and move more quickly up the ladder? I urge you to listen to the guidance your boss gives you about when you might be considered for promotion and set that as the earliest possible date. If she says three years, then three years it is. There’s a reason why this guidance exists.
If you are 25 and reading this, I’d bet my house you don’t believe me. Remember, I’m writing here about what I wish I’d learned earlier. I wish I had just relaxed in my roles, done a good job, and focused less on how quickly I could move up. I would have been calmer, happier, and would probably have gotten promoted earlier.
I encourage you to put things in perspective. How old is your CEO? How long has your boss been with the company or doing their job? After 20+ years in the work place, I can tell you there is a reason why leaders are often on the older, more-tenured side. Set a pace that gets you to their job at their age. Stay off the radar. Have the patience to get there.