So you’ve got the job of your dreams and you’ve settled in comfortably. Perhaps a little too comfortably? In today’s world, there are very few ‘forever jobs’; whether you’re happy in your role or yearning for more, it’s a smart idea to be proactive and keep growing, even in a job you love.
One of my favourite CEOs loves to say “Readers are leaders”.
This doesn’t mean we have to stay up all night with our noses buried in dusty literature, nor does it mean we have to go out and buy all the latest bestselling ‘how-to’ books. It just means making a conscious effort to use the knowledge of others as a shortcut to your own success and to help us think in new ways.
In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press meant books went from being rare, hand-produced items into affordable, mass-produced sources of information. As a result, levels of literacy went up across Europe and ideas were able to spread faster than ever before. Fast forward to the invention of the internet, a veritable buffet of information, available in an infinite number of formats. E-books, podcasts, newsletters delivered directly to our inbox, we can even get a hard copy of a classic delivered right to our doors. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it!
You might already have guessed it, but I’m a firm believer that no time spent reading is ever wasted. An idea or piece of knowledge is like a Lego block; interesting enough on its own (and potentially painful if you stumble across it unexpectedly), but the real magic begins when you combine it with other blocks to build something the world has never seen before.
I’m halfway through Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project” (which I’ve been meaning to read for 2 years now). It’s not exactly related to my job in terms of interviewing people, but reading about her attempts to get more out of life inspired me to change my own life in little ways, like getting up earlier to write this blog post.
2. Ask Questions
Related to reading new things, a great way to grow at work is to get curious.
Most of us spend our days thinking about our direct area of responsibility. We worry about the things we can influence and deal with the rest. Last week, I was working to fill a vacancy in a type of role that I’ve recruited for at least a dozen times. There was a bit of a disconnect with the hiring manager, who kept asking for changes to the advertisement that we had out there. I passed the requests on to the marketing person who ran the ad, and tried to answer his questions the best I could. He still wasn’t satisfied though, and if I’m being really honest, that began to frustrate me.
In a mini lightning-bolt moment, I realised something; I was upset with him because he was asking questions I didn’t know the answer to, and the marketer wasn’t able to deliver exactly what he wanted because I’d only given her half the picture. That afternoon, I sat down with the marketer and asked her to teach me about her job. She explained how she decides where jobs get posted, how long it takes the servers to update their ads and why she does things in a certain way.
I’d been working with her for 18 months, and never took the time to find this out. Suddenly a lot of little things made sense. Excited by this, I repeated the process with the hiring manager. I shared what I’d learned with him, and asked him questions about his job too. Would you believe it, I learned more stuff from him as well!
I probably could have gotten by without doing this, but by taking the time and getting a little curious, I learned about two different businesses and got a better idea of where I fitted in the picture. As an added bonus, I built a much stronger relationship with both of them. (It turns out, people really enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs. Try it and see for yourself)
3. Explore Mentoring
When it comes to self-improvement, mentoring is amazing. Whether you’re the one doing the mentoring, or getting mentored yourself, having a person to talk stuff through with can be really valuable.
As a mentee, you gain the benefit of someone else’s experience. This appeals to me because I’m not a super patient person. If there’s a faster, more effective way to get what I want, I’m there. I signed up to a mentoring program at work basically thinking I was going to get some ‘cheat codes’ for life. I got a lot more than I bargained for.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have an incredible mentor. She worked in a completely different department to me and had such a wealth of knowledge, not just about the company we worked at, but also just about life stuff. She wasn’t my boss, so I could talk to her honestly about everything without worrying about limiting my career.
She wasn’t my friend either (not at first anyway), so she wasn’t afraid to call me out on things or be brutally honest with me. It was actually pretty awesome. It was also hard work; she was similar enough to me that she saw through some of my defense mechanisms that work on other people. She also asked really hard questions, usually ones that I didn’t want to answer.
Being a mentor is pretty great too, and definitely another way to grow. Sharing what you’ve learned with someone and having them ask you questions is a quick way to realise how far you’ve actually come yourself. I wrote a whole post on the benefits of being a mentor (check it out here) , but basically it helps you to think mindfully about what you do and why you do it, plus is an opportunity to make a connection with another person who wants the same thing as you (also, if you’re a really good mentor and your mentee goes on to fame and fortune, guess who they’ll remember?)
4. Learn Something New
Ok, this is similar to the reading one, but it’s really important, so it gets two entries. Our brains are incredible machines with a whole lot of storage space. The more you learn, the more connections your brain cells develop, and the better you get at connecting ideas.
Practicing learning is also a smart thing to do; the rate of technological advancement is getting faster by the year, and computers are getting better at doing human jobs. Now that I’ve gone all ‘Skynet’ on you, the good news is we can use the power of technology to stay on top of things, especially the internet.
Are there training courses at your work you can do? If not, what about researching relevant training and putting it forward to your boss? At the very least, it will show that you’re passionate about the area and being good at your job, which always sends the right message.
If it’s been a while since you’ve learned something new, I highly recommend starting with this course on learning how to learn from Coursera. Coursera is an online learning hub where top universities worldwide offer classes on everything from app development to photography. It’s free too, though you can pay to get certified as well (a short course from MIT or Harvard never looks bad on a resume either, right?)
After all that reading, mentoring, learning and asking questions, I’m sure you might be feeling a little tired. Perhaps the last thing you feel like doing is heading out to one of those skeezy networking nights, where everyone drinks cheap wine and fills your pockets with business cards you’ll never use.
That kind of networking is fine if you enjoy it (I don’t mind the occasional free glass of pinot grigio myself). Networking is what you want it to be, and whatever works for who you are. Popping a message to someone you follow on LinkedIn, or asking an acquaintance if they want to have a coffee is just as good, and often a lot more effective.
The worst networkers are the ones that you only hear from when they want something. Please don’t be that person. Remember, character is how you treat people who can do nothing for you, so why not get into the habit of helping and catching up with people for no good reason?
My co-workers often hear my theory of “putting cookies in the jar.” If there’s something helpful I can do for someone else, that takes minimal effort on my behalf, I’ll do it. Same goes for taking a minute to have a great conversation with someone. It costs nothing for me to care about how that person’s day/business/life is going or to have a laugh, but every positive interaction puts more cookies in the jar I share with that person. Because one day I know I’ll get stuck. I’ll need to reach into the jar and pull a cookie out, and the more you’ve got to work with, the better.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a role that you love, or even just one you don’t actively hate, then you’re already ahead of the crowd. These tips will put you into that top 2% and keep you agile and ready should things go south, or something even more amazing comes along.
Which of these would help you the most? Join the discussion at Team Grownup’s private Facebook group, just click the banner below: