Some days I just amaze myself. I can be tired, even exhausted, and not very focused on work. Still I can go into a work meeting, make a few comments and add a ton of value. And I can do this again and again and again until I really don’t need to pay much attention because I am adding value just by the nature of doing the role for such a long time. I know what to say, who to say it to, and how to get things done without thinking too hard about it. You are thinking, “That’s great!” No, it’s not, and let me explain why. I have been doing the role of a test manager for many, many years. If I had to come up with a number, I’d say 12-14 years with a few years of being a front-line lead before that. And what does that mean? It means that some typical situations that used to be very difficult and challenging to do, I can almost do in my sleep, especially after being in one team for 2+ years. It’s not a good way to be. Why?
Anyone that has been in their role for a long time can take comfort in the fact that they can go through a whole day paying attention only a portion of the time and getting away with it. The more relaxed we are at doing this, the less attention we pay. Yet we continue to show that we can add value even though we are only slightly engaged. The longer you stay in this situation, the more comfortable you get at being less engaged, and therefore the less engaged you are. Luckily, I have higher expectations of myself, but I see others who don’t, others who are very comfortable and put in the minimal effort and continue to show value. They are playing the game very well. They are fooling lots of people. I know what being too relaxed looks like and it actually bothers me, personally. I don’t want to be that kind of a manager. Managers shouldn’t be relaxed, they should be focused, edgy, and extremely motivated.
So what do I do when I can do my job in my sleep? I find new challenges. Don’t you want to find work to do that when you are confronted with it you think “How the heck am I going to accomplish that?” It’s awesome! Why? Because when you do accomplish it, it makes you feel so good that you did it! Nothing is impossible, but sometimes it feels like things are. When you’ve completed that impossible task, you can be satisfied. And you can move onto that next impossible task. And the more you do this, the more you find out that they aren’t ever impossible, just maybe highly complex.
What I’m talking about is stepping outside your comfortable zone. It keeps you interested in your career. It keeps you motivated. You continue to learn and grow as an individual. Microsoft used to stress the importance of growing to the next level and getting promoted regularly. They have toned that message down a bit recently, but it’s still there. And the reason I think it still exists is that you aren’t getting the best of people, the most creative thinkers, the people solving the impossible problems, if we all are satisfied with doing a job we can do in our sleep. Challenging yourself and growing your skills is hugely important in any engineering role.
Change is inevitable. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t fight it. Give into it. Ride the wave of change. What do you need to change to make your job more interesting? What do you need to do to challenge yourself more? Don’t be asleep at your job. Being too relaxed and comfortable leads to being passive which leads to mistakes which leads to…well let’s not go there. You want job security? Find a job that scares you, that makes you wonder every day if you can do it successfully. And when you can, that’s great! And then move to the next one. That’s what I am doing. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel that’s steering your career. Stay in control, ride the wave of change, and find opportunities to challenge yourself.
This is called ambition. Please have some. It will take you farther than you can imagine.
If you can do your job in your sleep, then just stay in bed and let someone else step up to that challenge.