I had success early in my career. It put me on a fast track to management and I wanted more. After several years of quick, upward movement within my industry, I started to get frustrated when I couldn’t make that big jump to upper-level management and felt like I got stuck in middle management…. at age 24.
You’re probably saying “You sound like a Millennial, wanting the reward without putting in the work.”
It’s not that. I was ready — something I’d prove in short order — but I struggled to get that first break. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. You want that job, but don’t have the title. If only someone would give you that first break! Because once you have that title, it opens doors you couldn’t get through before.
When I shared this frustration with my boss, he told me something I remember more than 20 years later. I didn’t get it at the time and I certainly didn’t appreciate it then.
He said: “Don’t be in a hurry to get that big job.”
Interestingly, he said it less than a year before I got that big job. And shortly thereafter, I realized exactly what he meant.
That big job came with big responsibility. It meant I controlled not just my own future, but carried the burden of the company and the people I worked with. Potential failure didn’t just mean my own, but impacted the lives and families of the people that worked for me and that I worked alongside.
I had anticipated the job, but underestimated the burden.
The things I loved about my business, I was doing less and less. I loved jumping in and getting my hands dirty and working directly with the product. Now, I couldn’t afford to take the time to be hands-on. Even though I loved doing it, the time it would take would take away from more important matters. I had a room full of people who could competently handle the day-to-day, but they needed me — in my new role — to be looking out for where our company was going next.
The things I enjoyed the most, I got to do the least in my new role. The things I was the best at doing, I no longer got to do myself.
What’s that line about stopping and smelling the roses? I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the journey as much as I should have. I look back on the early days. I was so focused on climbing the corporate ladder that I didn’t enjoy the success along the way. It was great fun, but I missed a lot of it because I was too busy looking down the road.
Like most people, I had to learn on-the-job. I’d seen people who got their shot at managing others and fail. People tend to get promoted because they are good at certain things. Then they get put into positions that require a whole different skill set. It hit me when I realized I was managing an $8 million-dollar department budget — with no formal training in business or accounting. That’s part of why even after decades of leading organizations, I felt the need to go get my MBA at age 55.
I didn’t celebrate the steps we made and the progress along the way. I was so focused on that next job that I was never satisfied with what we’d accomplished and pushed myself and others to do more and do better. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do better, I know that I pushed some people too hard, too fast and didn’t take the time to celebrate what they’d done.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” — Ursula Le Guin (although often attributed incorrectly to Ernest Hemingway).
“Don’t be in a hurry,” he told me. He was right.
Enjoy the journey.