I had a drink in my hand and spotify was playing ‘The Neighbourhood’. I sat back on my couch and thought about my career. Ultimately I felt unsatisfied.
I felt guilty about this. 8th Light gave me opportunities to learn and improve. I remembered when I first came down to interview with 8th Light. I wanted to build software. I wore a black suit and knew nothing about software. Everyone else wore t-shirts and jeans in the office. It made me feel even more out of place.
I sat down with Paul, who would later become my mentor, and he asked me about my coding background. I told him the line anyone would say in my position: "Not much, but I'm eager to learn". I got a chance to show up; that's more than most people get.
The more I thought, the more I realized my discontent was caused by my own actions. 8th Light is an area that can be challenged and pried and molded by employees. That's part of what makes it great. If I want to improve some specific skillsets or change what I spend my time doing, what's stopping me from trying?
I started structuring a simple system around our apprenticeship program, which would recruit other talented craftsmen and have them take leadership positions in solving sets of problems each quarter. I helped organize an internal project that will help 8th Light’s craftsmen complete their billing in a less annoying way. I started self-initiating systems work and simultaneously I improved 8th Light.
Through those experiences I found the value of productive partnerships: organizing cooperative initiatives with your employer. It includes working on personal ambitions in a way that will also benefit your employer. It also includes that your employer will support you in your progress. Before we get to what you want to do, or how to do it, we need to analyze if you work for the right type of company.
Do you work for the right company?
Good employers will take time to listen to you and help improve you. They will also be open to ideas, and the idea that one of their employees wants to do more for the company on their own time.
Good employers should want to help their employees, and if your employer has no interest in a productive partnership, then you may be at the wrong job entirely and it's time to leave.
What do I want from my career?
When I didn’t have goals, or when I wasn’t working on those goals, I felt discontent. And it’s easy to blame others for your discontent. Most of the time it’s simply a matter of defining some important concepts you want to work on and starting simple from there.
I found continuing to write down my goals and revisit my progress keeps me moving in an active direction rather than serving someone else’s ends. I find a way my work can be productive for the company as well as for myself. Instead of filling a role, I look to create value for all parties.
How do I spend my time getting there?
Next analyze if the time spent at your company is properly allocated to making progress on the goals that you care about. What activities make you unhappy at work? Can you improve them? Can you create a whole new outlet of value doing something you really do want?
It is worth an open discussion of your goals with your team to make sure all involved can help facilitate situations towards your improvement. As I said earlier, I’ve been working with other 8th Lighter’s to improve the apprenticeship process and the billing process within 8th Light. These are activities that help me, help others and proactively improve our company.
Time is short
I remember talking to my Dad and how many times he’d opine “Man, it was almost 30 years ago but it feels like yesterday!”. He enjoyed what he did and how he lived -- it just passed so fast! I thought about this a lot. Did I want to be 50 and regret what I did professionally?
What activities are you currently associated with in your workplace that are non-vital to the higher goals? There is no greater investment you can make than in your ambitions and your dreams; there is no greater waste than in spending your fixed amount of time and energy on things you don’t really care about.
Get good at saying no, politely. This is really hard to do. If someone asks you for a favor, how can you say no without offense? How can you say no to a teammate or co-worker?
Having well-defined initiatives has the added benefit of keeping you busy on the things that you value most. It is easy to get pulled by needs from other people, and having a full plate of additional responsibilities from your productive partnership, you can truthfully say “I’d like to help you, but I will need to stop doing x, y and z in order to make room for it.” This forces the requester to see if the request really is that important for you to do. Most of the time someone else can help them just the same.
Low-risk, low-cost, high-quantity
Pitch ideas to your employer in a way where specific problems are being addressed. Show them a low-cost and low-risk way in how the problems could be fixed. Make sure that for the problems you are addressing, you are one of the simpler or low-risk/cost solutions compared to other solutions to those issues, or show them how the complexity may be worth the risk. Most employers will view new ideas in a cost/benefit analysis. Low-cost, high-benefit is usually a pretty good recipe.
After pitching, keep pitching. Some ideas work, some don’t. Keep the quantity high. Harass them into giving you opportunities, or just take them and make them tell you to stop. The well-known phrase “it’s easier to apologize than ask permission” is valuable to keep in mind, and liberating to someone that wants to create. And even if you are annoying, this is the right type of annoying to most managers and leaders in the company.
So how to proceed?
As an employee, be bold and honest about what you want. Think of ideas you can work on through your employer that will help you proceed in those, too -- product ideas, workplace improvements, ways to broaden the opportunities the company offers for other employees.
You are trying to make your life, and your company, something of higher quality. Be a leader and keep sending out ideas that you want to work on. You have limited bandwidth. Your time is short here. Be selfish with it. Say no to non-vital goal achieving responsibilities at work. Your company often may, and your dreams often do, rely on productive partnerships.