Not everyone wants to pursue a promotion in this field and there are a lot of good reasons why that might be the case for you. But even if you don’t want to become a manager, there are many other branches of career opportunities in this field, from lead positions to instructor roles. Whatever your career goals are, I think there is a path. I didn’t blaze it, it’s actually well travelled. I just want to share pieces of the map I’ve found along the way.
This post, Get Out of Your Own Way, is an introduction to the series Career Path, which will eventually expand beyond the 6 parts I’ve outlined below, but I think they’re a good start. Although what I’m sharing is only one person’s experience and observations, I hope you find parallels between my story and your own career that are illuminating.
Pt. 2: Say Yes
Pt. 3: Be Your Best, Not The Best
Pt. 4: Build Relationships
Pt. 5: Diversify
Pt. 6: Learn How to Interview
Firm. Fair. Hard working. As a young probation officer, I was proud to describe myself in these terms. Unfortunately, I also have to admit that I didn’t take feedback well and had a tendency to take it personally. I had mistrust in my leadership and thought my hard work gave me the right to judge others. I was never a bad trainee or hostile employee, far from it. I just had a massive ego and little self-awareness, a combination that stunted my growth in those early years.
I can look back now with perspective and laugh about how little I actually knew. I thought the job was simple because I defined success not by the outcomes of the individuals I supervised but on my ability to manage a caseload. My only understanding on how to move up in my career was to work harder. I knew plenty about case management and department policies, but I knew very little about the intricacies of change. I knew even less about influence, relationships, and credibility. Of course, I still don’t know it all today. The only difference is I’m smart enough to admit that now.
Remaining stagnant while time passes is not how you gain perspective or knowledge. If that were the case, the most brilliant contributors in your department would be the most senior employees. And while I’ve certainly worked with some amazing people with a lot of experience, I just haven’t found that to be true. You have to challenge yourself. You have to do hard things. But it’s not just about working harder.
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge-Stephen Hawking
When I say get out of your own way, I mean humble yourself or put yourself in a position to be humbled. Listen, and not just to the people you like in your office. Expand your circle of influence by making new connections. Ask questions, and assume you don’t know it all. Because no matter how long you’ve been on the job, there is more to learn. If you work in corrections and think what you do is simple, ask yourself why you believe that to be true. Be curious about what you do, why you do it and how you might do it better.
When you believe there is more to learn, that belief will drive you to find answers and that pursuit will put you on the path to where you want to go. Along the way, if you are willing to listen, you’ll find there are others willing and able to help. So be a lifelong learner; it will serve you well at all stages of your career and beyond. But you have to get out of your own way, first.