Careers are like pants — they shrink and expand with the different seasons. Like pants, unexpected changes in our careers can leave us feeling frustrated and a little insecure. But in an ever-shifting culture, sometimes in order to take advantage of a big opportunity, you may actually have to dial your career back. This could mean a reduced title, fewer hours, or lower pay. For hard-driving, career-oriented gals, these consequences are tough to swallow. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
Sheryl Sandberg — yep that Sheryl Sandberg — noted the best career advice she ever received told her to “look for growth,” first and foremost. Often, when we’re comfortable in a position, it means we aren’t growing like we should be. Opportunity will knock, but it rarely saunters through the door holding a tray of money and happiness with your name on it. If you’re striving for more in your career there will be times of second guessing, reaching, and insecurity. But simply knowing growth is in store doesn’t make swallowing that smaller paycheck or lower title easy. Here are three ways to keep driving toward bigger things, even if you’ve found yourself (temporarily) in a smaller role.
1. Stay Away From the Comparison Trap
You’ve heard it before, but comparison steals your joy. No matter how tempting it is to eye your cubemate each time he or she nabs a meeting with the head honcho, step away from the side eye. Often we assume our co-workers just naturally have it all together; we imagine they have the exact same background, education, and experience that we do — they’re just better at everything. This couldn’t be further from the truth. When we attempt to quantify our careers and the careers of others we soon realize it’s not an apples-to-apples thing. It’s our human tendency to blow others’ achievements up while shrinking our own. Not only does this stunt our confidence, but it also creates space for a self-fulfilling prophesy. We think we’ll never measure up to our superstar co-worker and, weirdly, the universe usually complies. On the flip side, if we go into our day with the confidence to tackle any project while keeping our eyes fixed solely on our own progress, most of the time success is exactly what we receive.
2. Find Something to Improve
Finding your groove in a new role is key. But how can you get into the flow at work if you feel disengaged? The answer: find something you can improve. Chances are, your co-workers in higher-ranking positions are swamped with their daily tasks and have very little time for big-picture thinking. This is where you come in. Is there a tweak you can make to a presentation that will help not only your manager but her manager? Could you do extra research into what competitors are doing and then brief your team with ideas? Is there a gap in product development research that you can fill? Actively looking for ways to optimize your office’s processes will motivate you and make a little space for some creative va va voom. Improving things — no matter if it’s the copier or a cost-benefit analysis — builds confidence, boosts feelings of belonging, and helps you push through even the dullest of career stages.
3. Keep a Brag List Handy
Do you remember when you were young and every A+ paper, “beautiful” craft, or offbeat drawing you made was displayed around the house, courtesy of your parents? Showing off your work was a way your family showed they cared — and it likely incited some ooey-gooey happy feelings. You can reap those same benefits in your career without covering your cube with adult finger paintings. Because as it turns out, those warm and fuzzy feelings actually spur growth and innovation. Studies have shown that happier employees are more productive employees, and nothing makes people happier than being reminded of their successes. How can you apply this concept to a career downshift? File it, baby! Keep an email file titled “Why I’m Great,” or “Way to Go, Lucy!” and fill it with small and large successes. Boss sends a “Great job!” email? Put it in the file. Receive positive feedback on your slide deck? File that gem. Then, when you’re feeling a little off, take some time to review your success moments for a quick reminder of how awesome you really are. Moreover, keeping a running tally of your career highs comes in handy when you’re meeting with your supervisor during that classic year-end assessment.