It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but I’ve only had a couple of job promotions in my life. They were all in the Army (going from Private to Sergeant).
Well, actually, I was offered a sideways promotion from “Web Developer” to “Web Developer and Customer Manager” based on my ability to handle customer support (“I’m sorry, this job doesn’t come with a salary increase”), but I declined it.
The reason I don’t get promoted has never been because I am incompetent (at least no one has ever told me that). The reason is usually that I fit so well in all the jobs I’ve had. I work hard and they can’t afford to replace me. So, eventually, I leave.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I say I don’t get promoted … I’m not saying I haven’t grown and I’m not saying my pay hasn’t increased (it has— a lot). I was a junior developer and now I run a company. But, each time I grew into a new position, it was the result of moving to a new job.
The cycle is … start a new job where I am in slightly over my head. Then, work harder than everyone else to prove I belong there. Finally, come to the conclusion that there is no more growth possible in that job and leave before consumed with boredom. That cycle generally takes about two years— sometimes longer (but the longest I’ve held a job outside of the Army was 3 and half years).
I don’t blame anyone for not promoting me, by the way. Back in 2003, I remember reading Tom Peters’ great book “Re-imagine” and the quote “Only in business do we promote the most talented violinist to conductor.” This makes a lot of sense. You keep talent where it does the most good.
I also read a book way back in the day called “The Peter Principle” which was very funny. The Peter Principle states that people rise to their level of incompetence. Basically, when you are good at your job, you get promoted. You continue to get promoted until you are not good enough to get promoted anymore and are generally incompetent in your job. So, the principle states, business is filled with incompetent people in senior positions who are only there because they can no longer get promoted higher.
So, I never expect anyone to promote me. I mean, I used to wait for it. I used to try to climb the ladder. But I stopped. I find it much easier to decide myself what I want to do and grow towards that. I refuse to wait for my “superiors” to bestow a job upon me. I have to force my way in and prove I belong there (until it is time to leave).
I think the same way about my education. I would never rely on my employer to train me. I never give that much power over my future. My best employers understand that. But that means I work longer and harder than others and I spend a lot on computer books and courses.
I hear this all the time. Someone tries to impress me with how long they’ve been at a company. “You don’t understand how things work around here, Eric. I’ve been at this company 15 years and I can tell you that we usually blah blah blah“. Or, “I wanted to learn .Net (or Mobile or Cloud), but I couldn’t convince my boss to go for it.” Sometimes you just have to take ownership of your own career.
So, occasionally, I promote myself to a new position. And sometimes it’s scary. It can also be very lonely.
I don’t believe you can rely on others to give you permission to move forward. Sometimes, you just have to leap.
No one wants you to be miserable. They want you to stay doing what you do well. But it’s not their job to make sure your career progresses. I can remember each day hoping someone would “see the greatness in me” and offer me more responsibility . . . but the process either was not going to happen or was too slow for me to wait. Sometimes, it’s up to you to make yourself miserable and to decide you want more.
Sometimes you just gotta move on.