Career Stagnation To Career Progression

career chart In my life, I have been blessed with both a gift and a curse. I have above-average intelligence and a strong desire to learn and understand new things. I also am both lazy and a procrastinator. Remember when we were all taught in school that hard work pays off? I was that kid who things either came easy to, or I was looking for way to cut the amount of hard work I had to do. I think it was my father who clued me in on an important lesson – it’s more important to work hard, than to work smart. Time and experience taught me that he was right. People say you need to work hard, but working hard without having some sense behind it can be wasted effort.

I grew up with the type of parents who wanted me to have what they had and even more. That meant that college was not an option, it was an expectation. It was never explicitly said, but I assumed that I’d follow the path everyone else does: go to college, graduate, get a corporate job and kill it. 17-year-old Jubi just knew she would be a VP of R&D for a Fortune 100 company one day, it was just a matter of time. I mean, it’s super easy to make it up the corporate ladder, right?

After college and grad school, I jumped into the corporate world full force. I’d read the books and the articles, I’d attended the career office sessions, and I was armed with lots of advice from my mentors. I had lofty goals to make my mark and zoom up the ladder to success. My first job was with a defense contractor, and I was the first new hire in the labs in 15+ years. I was also the only woman, the only person of color, and the youngest by at least 30 years. I jumped in with both feet, and I worked hard. I volunteered for everything I could, from community volunteer events to the corporate recruiting team. I asked for stretch assignments and my eagerness and desire to learn was rewarded with challenging assignments that a new grad probably shouldn’t have handled. I mapped out a career progression plan with my manager, and I set my sights on becoming the lab group supervisor in 3-5 years, knowing that the current supervisor was soon to retire. What I didn’t know was coming was the housing crisis in 2006. Central Florida was hurt hard, and that meant there was no movement – people who planned to retire were staying at work, given the uncertain outlook of their retirement accounts.

I took all of that experience and excitement and moved to a new company in a new industry. In that role, I had to work hard AND work smart. It was a very challenging role, in an industry I was learning, and I was expected to perform as if I’d been working there all my life. The standards were high, and I felt as if I’d be thrown into the deep end of the pool when I’d barely mastered treading water. When you’re drowning (or you think you’re drowning), you’re trying to not panic but inside you’re freaking out and trying not to die. The first 12-18 months in that role was a perpetual feeling of drowning. I tried to act like I had it all together and I knew what I was doing, but inside I wanted to cry every day. Some days, I did cry in the lab, or at home after work. I worried that I was failing, and that I couldn’t cut it. But somewhere in there, I realized that I learned a lot. I realized that I had learned to swim, and I was doing more than just treading water. I was providing value! I was learning and growing and figuring things out! But…I was not enjoying what I was doing. My company was not known for work/life balance, and it would only get worse with each promotion. That’s not the life I wanted, and I was also tired of life in the lab. I wanted change and so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it.

I changed careers and industries three years ago. In that time I’ve gone from loving my job, to hating my job, to wanting to walk out and never come back to my job, to loving it again, to now. At the present moment, I’ve settled on indifference, both towards my company and my career. I come to work, I do a few things, but the passion is gone. My attitude as of late has been “well, I’ll just keep showing up until they tell me to stop coming.”

I’m still not sure if the leap was a good move. After three years, I’m still at the same level in my company, despite my attempts at promotions. I survived some less-than stellar managers, including one who refused to promote any of the women on his team. I also survived several layoffs and three reorganizations, and 4 different managers in one year. I look at a few of my former teammates who also started around the time I did, and they have made more progression in their careers at our company. Some of it is strictly “right place, right time” but I wonder how much of it is me. Is this truly the right place for me?

Looking back, I’ve learned a lot about how the working world works. I know that my career progression isn’t going to be a straight line. I also don’t want to wake up and see another 5 years have passed, and I’m still stuck at the same level. Even if I do stay at the same level, I’d be happy if I found a challenge in my work, and I felt that my work added value. Right now, I feel neither.  I feel “stuck” and I worry that I will wake up five years from now, still in the same position, at the same level, in the same company. That is my greatest fear and so, all my energy is devoted to preventing that from happening.

Any tips for me?