Strive to Arrive in a Culture of Career Path Impatience

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Achieve. Excel. Prove. Strive. Progress. 

These are all words that I would use to describe my approach to my career path in my first decade out of college. In a job interview along the way, one of the panelists asked me to what I attributed the "meteoritic rise" detailed on my resume. Me, a meteor! The question took me by surprise because I thought the answer was so obvious that it wasn't worth asking. Isn't that what the world wanted from me? Isn't that what I've been taught my whole life to be aiming towards? Rise to the top. Go to the best school. Get the best grades. Perform. Strive. Achieve. 

This is a sense ingrained in many young professionals today. We expect to advance quickly, to rise within our organizations, to display an impressive job title on our LinkedIn page. Couple this with the fact that we live in a culture where we can get anything we want instantly—my order from Amazon will be here by Saturday and I can call a Lyft to take me to the airport right away. This pervasive sense of impatience seeps into our approach to work, too. I want the more important job title and the responsibility and compensation to go with it, all by Thursday. And if I'm not making leaps and bounds forward, I'll restlessly search around for another employer or industry that will feed that need to progress now.

Something important is lost in all that striving to Arrive: an appreciation for where we are, and in the time it takes to build the skill, experience, and self-knowledge to do our best future work; our sense that that process of becoming can be fruitful, affirming, and even...fun?

In the words of author Jennifer Romolini, "Do you actually like this career you entered? Then why rush it? What is your hurry? Why not savor all of the different positions in it; why not have fun, learn all its different facets, make friends, experiment, collaborate, try new things, fuck up, try more new things, get mentored, have less of the boring high-level responsibility and more space and creativity?"  

This time of year always has me thinking about patience—how anxious I am to feel the heat of the sun and see all the colors come up in the garden. But important things are happening under the ground that I can't see. The blossoms will come when the time is right. And there are things I can be doing now to focus on the preparation for that time, like clearing away the leaves, planning what I'll grow this year, and researching how to tend to the needs of those particular plants. How can spring teach us to take a different approach to our career impatience?

Last year, I made a conscious, big career change centered on my Personal Strategic Plan that has led me to focus on Alignment rather than Achievement. I still challenge and stretch myself in important ways, but in ways that express and cultivate who I am and what I stand for. I'm still ambitious, for sure, but in ways that serve my own personal definition of success, not reaching for a job title that feels important and impressive. These days, I am more concerned with impressing myself by becoming the best version of myself, and in taking the long view of preparing myself for the impact I will have over a lifetime.

Many of my clients come to me because they are in the process of figuring out whether to stay where they are or transition into the next step. They're sorting through their motivations to move on, whether that's a toxic work culture, a lousy leader, an anxiousness to move on and up, or a sense that they're meant for something more but don't yet have clarity on what that could look like.

The answer is not always to move right on to the next thing. Sometimes it's to be where you are and wait for spring to come. 

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