As managers, we pay a lot of attention to professional growth. We prepare for promotion, we seek out opportunities, and we dream about that plum job we first spotted when we joined our organization.
But is there ever a point where we level out, and stop pushing upwards?
Is there ever a point when we decide that our boss's job is definitely not the one we want?
Sure. Most of us will level out at some point.
Signs You are Leveling Out
1. You are skilled at your current role, and satisfied with your current pay and responsibilities.
2. You look at the next rung on the ladder, and decide that the effort/risk/struggle it would take to get there is not worth it. Or you realize that you are outmatched by your competition.
3. You are interested in achieving mastery in your current role. You want to grow, but in breadth. You are willing to take on more responsibility, but in the context of your current role.
Pros and Cons
The pros? There is a certain kind of peace that comes when you set aside your ambitions to be upwardly mobile. Instead of furiously climbing to the next level, you learn to maximize the benefits of your current role. Your stress level may fall. You can build a good set of systems and relationships for the long term, adding value to your team in ways that go beyond your job role.
The cons? You may feel a bit jealous at first, as others pass you. There is a real risk that your company may view you as stagnant. In some companies, leveling out is seen as a form of incompetence. "Good people always grow." This is foolish of course, because we can grow within a role, but it is a risk to be managed. You are likely to experience limits in your compensation growth.
Flattening the Curve
To level out, you don't need to make an announcement. It can be as simple as stopping the "push" for promotion if you've been ambitious. It might also involve mentioning that you are really enjoying your role, and talking about the plans you have for it.
Think "growth within my role" instead of "growth upward."
There are a few dangers to avoid if you decide to level out. First, avoid stagnation. Stay current in your field, stay abreast of trends, and keep growing your competence and contribution. If you are just treading water, a smart company will consider replacing you with someone better.
Secondly, be careful of the vacuum effect. Someone above you leaves suddenly, and you (such a competent fellow!) are asked to fill in. Be helpful, but be careful. You may find yourself being "sucked" into a more senior role you don't want and/or are not suited for. Many competent people have been burned in this way. Don't let your company (in a moment of convenience) chew you up and burn you out.
Celebrating the Next Phase
When I was in my hyperactive twenties, I never understood why someone would want to stay put in one job role for the long haul. Now, in my mid thirties, I do understand. It's not about getting old, or slowing down, or being less passionate. It's more about the idea that after a decade or two of finding "that perfect fit" it doesn't make sense to cast it aside in the pursuit of more stress, more money, or more power.
Have you happily leveled out in your career? If so, I'd love to hear your story.
Cheri Baker is a management coach in Seattle, WA