Why Bail From Success?

By Curmudgeon


In the first installment of this series, I noted that I am approaching the 30 year point in my career, and certainly have a mixed track record in the many and varied jobs that I’ve held.  In my last post, I focused on my failures.

Today I’d like to talk about success, those jobs at which I have been damned good. I’m in one of them now, which is largely a good thing, given that comparable jobs are likely to be difficult to find in today’s environment.

What makes me damned good at these jobs? In at least one case, one of my successes was very similar work to one of my failures, so while my effort (or lack of such) may have been a factor, it doesn’t seem to be an overriding one.

Like I did when I described my failures, the corporate culture has a lot to do with it. I joined this company just over a year ago, and had a couple of colleagues that I had known from years past who were able to clue me in.  And I had a new colleague who unexpectedly helped make me more comfortable in developing my role.

But I was also able to define my role expansively. Not all companies let you do that; in some cases, departments and individuals jealously guard their turf.  There were plenty of things to do, and in general not enough people to do them.  So I pitched in.  That accomplishes two things.  First, I gained more experience in the business as a whole, and was able to better integrate my core activities into the business goals.  Second, it made me known to others in the organization, outside of my niche, and let me develop a network of people who knew me and knew my work.  We would trade favors, getting work done without having to use the ubiquitous chain of command.

The natural question is why did I ever leave such jobs? In most cases, I was paid well, worked in a decent environment, and most important was highly thought of.  In most cases, that led to one or more promotions and significant pay raises.

The circumstances are different in each case. In one, the schedule was undemanding, but normally required working in the afternoon and evening.  After I got married, such a schedule proved to be unworkable with my home life.

In a second, the handwriting was on the wall for the office I worked in for years before it was actually closed. Resources were being devoted elsewhere in the company, and our business was in decline.

The important point about all of these circumstances is that things change. Your life changes, or the company changes.  We can’t expect everything to stay the same over the course of years, let alone an entire career.  If we’re already in a great situation for our skills and personality, chances are that those changes will be for the worse.

If you can engage in your job, and reach beyond what you were hired to do, you are likely to be considered a high performer.  Don’t let that go to your head (the subject of the next post in this series).  Your needs, or your employer’s needs, will change over time. Instead, use the opportunity to broaden your skills and your network, and to think about what might be next.

And recognize the potential costs of that engagement and subsequent effort.  You may be working many extra hours, perhaps out of enthusiasm or a sense of accomplishment, and giving up your personal life.  You may associate your own self-worth with that job, and when it goes away (it will someday), it may perhaps take that part of you with it.

I speak of obsession. You can do a fine job without being obsessed with it.  Knowing when you have done what you can is perhaps the most difficult skill to learn, but if you want to be damned good at your job, you must master it.  Otherwise, long term success with remain an elusive goal.

Photo by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker