When you’re just starting out, you tend to think about your career progression incrementally. This is especially true if you work in an office where there is an opportunity for your to climb the ladder internally. But when you reach the middle of your career, once you’ve completed the drudgery of entry-level work and have reached a place where you have respect and responsibility, it’s easy to get complacent about continuing up the ladder.
In my case, once I had completed my tour of duty as an intern and a staff assistant and an LC, I felt quite content in the role of legislative assistant for my home Congressman. I liked my Boss. I liked my co-workers. And, most importantly for me, I liked the work that I was doing.
After awhile though, it became quite clear that there was nowhere else for me to go within my office. The Chief wasn’t leaving. Our LD wasn’t leaving. Initially, this didn’t bother me–I was less concerned with advancement than I was with being glad to come to work every day. But over time, I think the lack of opportunity for advancement did have an affect on me.
Looking back, I realize that because there was no obvious next step to strive for, I became too comfortable. I no longer challenged myself to come up with new ideas, formulate new projects or pursue new goals the way I had before. I still did my job well, and sometimes, enlightenment/motivation would strike me, but my hunger for the job was gone.
Recently, I asked an acquaintance, who has been in the same position on Capitol Hill for almost seven years, if she ever feels like she’s stagnating. She was very candid, telling me that there are days when she wishes there was an opportunity for her to advance in her office. She likes the Member she works for and the work she does, but she knows that there is no more room to grow in this situation (she’s second from the top, and the person in the top spot will be taken out of the office in a hearse). And while she sometimes thinks about leaving, she’s afraid of winding up somewhere that she doesn’t like or missing an opportunity should the top spot open up.
It’s easier to climb from the bottom to the middle of the ladder. But, even without the pressures of family, climbing from the middle to the top is much more difficult.
In my case, spending several years in the same position knowing there was no upward trajectory was not beneficial for me. It was hard to self-motivate and keep up my morale. In hindsight, I wish I had more seriously pursued other opportunities to find a higher position in another Hill office. But much like the lady referenced above, I looked around at the situation that I was in and thought, “This is good, why risk leaving? Who knows where I would end up?”
My advice for today is this: If you feel like your stagnating or losing your drive, it’s important that you ask yourself why. Do you need more challenging work or a higher level of responsibility? Are you chafing at the title of middle management? Can you find that growth in your current situation or do you need to seek work elsewhere?
Several years ago, a good male friend of mine left a Senate office where he was very happy and a Senator who was great to work for for a job with a better title in another office. Everyone said he was crazy. Four years later, a member of the Senator’s senior staff quit unexpectedly, and he got the call to come back.
I asked him whether he thinks he’d have been promoted had he not left for the other office. He thought that perhaps, he would have gotten the job anyway, but he recognized that he’d learned far more working in the other office than he would have if he’d stayed. And he firmly believed that leaving kept him hungry and engaged in a way that staying wouldn’t have.
It’s tough to leave a job that you like. But if there are no promotions to be had and raises are few and far between, staying can sometimes be harmful to your success. You lose your edge when you’re comfortable. And over time, I think people start to take you for granted. So it’s important not to become so content in your job that you lose your perspective on what’s next or stop being open to new opportunities.