Moving up just for the sake of it can backfire, one expert says
Call it workplace diplomacy.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday sought to quell rumors she was gunning for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job — telling reporters at a briefing that “ever since I was a legislator, people have talked about what I’m trying to do or what I’m supposed to do. What I’m trying to do is do a good job.” Pressed on whether she wanted the oil mogul’s cabinet gig, she replied, “No, I do not.”
Time will tell if the ex-South Carolina governor lands the nation’s top diplomat slot, or whether she even wants it. But take a look at your own career: Are you happy where you are, or should you strive for that promotion? Here’s what to know about making the decision to stay put or move up — and how to check your ambition in the meantime:
Be sure it’s really what you want. Ask yourself what brings you joy, what you want to achieve and whether moving up will help you gain expertise in a field that matters to you, career coach Mike Whitaker told Moneyish. “Link each decision to your prime goals and you really will rarely make a mistake,” he said. “A lot of times we get excited and under pressure and we start making decisions without a real good ‘why.’ And that’s where I think that leads to regrets.” If you’re not sure what you want, he said, “hold still” — otherwise, you could move in the wrong direction.
You might move up if you’re no longer feeling challenged or your job starts to lack energy and feel routine, said career coach Caroline Dowd Higgins. “Some people are happy with that status quo, but most people who are driven and ambitious are looking for variety or change or new challenges,” she said. “It may be that they’re also looking for a promotional opportunity that comes with a financial remuneration that gives them a chance to move up and earn more.”
Don’t try to get promoted just for the sake of it. “You could be given the most beautiful pair of shoes,” career coach Lynn Berger told Moneyish. “If they don’t fit, it’s gonna hurt.” The job you’re considering should be a clear next step for achieving a prime career goal, Whitaker said. Moving up for the sake of moving up is “like dating for the sake of dating” and “has a greater than 50% chance of failure.” “Because it doesn’t have a foundation in your top goals,” he said, “the work gets harder, there’s less joy in it, there’s more pressure.”
Avoid being driven by blind ambition. If your main motivation for pursuing an opportunity is based in ego, prestige or a fancy title, you may need to check your ambition, Whitaker said. Get a clear head by pausing, thinking on it and circling back to your prime career goal. “Ambition cannot be used to make decisions,” he said. “It’s fuel for moving you to make decisions, but it can’t be why you make a decision.”
Give yourself permission to not have ambition. We worry constantly about what we haven’t done and don’t spend enough time taking stock of successes and milestones, Whitaker said. But what if you’ve already succeeded at what you set out to do? “Take stock of whether you’ve already met goals that are important to you,” Whitaker said. If you’ve met them, “Enjoy. Be happy. Have a beer. And ponder what your next bigger goal in your career is going to be.”
“I think the confidence of knowing that you’re in a place of what’s working for you is conveyed by how you think and feel and how you communicate that,” Berger said. “It comes down to self confidence.”
If you do decide to pursue a promotion, Higgins said, the idea of just working hard and doing great work is not enough. “You need to be seen and heard as doing great work,” she said. “You’ve got to be visible — there are some extraordinary people that are well-kept secrets.” Nobody likes a narcissist, she said, but a “humbly confident” approach can be palatable. Distinguish yourself as extraordinary, but avoid “bulldozing” your way into a role.
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