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What Evolving In Our Career Truly Means

We all have deep need to evolve into something or someone better than who we were before the pandemic, for ourselves, and for others around us.

My 9 year old son is a big Pokemon fan. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t give me another update about his Pokemon card collection. The iconic trading card phenomenon that originated in the late 1980’s has now turned into a multibillion dollar business including several video games, cartoon series, toys, merchandise, and more recently full length feature movies. If you’ve never dived into it yourself growing up, you probably know someone who has. During conversations with my son, I’ve always been intrigued about how Pokemon creatures evolve. They grow from their original size and skill set and upgrade to new and improved physical attributes. I had to look this up some more and found the best description of this from a Pokemon fan site (Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this):

“Pokemon, like all organic life are characterized by growth, specialization, and reproduction. One of the biggest elements of growth in the Pokemon world is the phenomenon of evolution, by which a Pokemon takes a form more suitable to its environment and circumstances. This is a much more simplified and rapid form of the same general idea as evolution in the real world. The point is, Pokemon evolve because that’s what their environment demands of them. This is especially obvious because many Pokemon evolve naturally over time, as they grow, and take on more powers and more complex shapes and abilities.”

Though at the core it’s a fictional idea, Pokemon evolution can be synonymous with how we can evolve in our careers. If the last 2 years has taught us anything during this pandemic, it’s evolving in our careers is something we need to continually consider and strive for. As the world rapidly changes around us, the increase in remote work has not only transformed the way we function and communicate with our colleagues, but it has opened up new ways for businesses to market and sell to their customers. There have been challenges, but at the same time it’s opened up new possibilities for innovation and creative problem solving. As new opportunities around us become available, we tend to get uncomfortable with the status quo. We get frustrated when we feel ‘stuck’ in the same role or company because by nature we have a desire to keep growing and stretch ourselves to participate in new experiences and use our expertise to solve the new problems ahead of us. 

Evolving in our career is not just about achieving a promotion or finding another opportunity that provides you with an increase in pay and benefits. It’s about upgrading your skills and finding ways to solve uncommon challenges that arise in today’s economy. It’s about giving yourself purpose and excitement each day as you wake up and face another workday.

As we’ve seen with the ongoing pandemic, our lives are unpredictable and fleeting. We really don’t know how much time we have left. As a result many have decided to make their work days count. The Great Resignation of 2021 signaled the end of meaningless work for millions of North Americans. Last year in July an estimated 4 million North American employees resigned from their current positions. They resigned because at the time there was a record breaking 11 million open job opportunities by the end of July.

As Ian Cook describes in an Harvard Business Review article, the pandemic pushed many to think about evolving in their careers. “Months of high pandemic workloads due to hiring freezes and other pressures caused workers to rethink their work and life goals. [This lead to] mid-level employees leaving their jobs in droves. With remote work there’s a greater demand for employers to hire experienced workers due to the lack of in person training available.”

The Atlantic’s Dereck Thompson’s take on the Great Resignation is slightly different. “The increase in people quitting is mostly about low-wage workers switching to better jobs in industries that are raising wages to grab new employees as fast as possible. [Resignations in the] leisure and hospitality [sector] have increased four times faster than for the largest white-collar sector. More people are quitting their job to start something new.”

Indeed. 

It seems as though the pandemic has pushed many of us to consider the opportunities available to use our transferable professional skills and do better. The Great Resignation on the surface can seem to be about just better wages, but when we look closer it’s more about a deep need to evolve into something or someone better than who we were before the pandemic, for ourselves, and for others around us.

From a personal perspective, developing professionally is proven to increase the levels of our brain’s neuroplasticity. Learning environments that offer plenty of opportunities for focused attention, novelty, and challenge have been scientifically shown to stimulate positive and rapid changes in the brain. When we were young, it was easier to experience improvements to our brain’s plasticity because we were eager to discover and learn new things. On top of that our motor skills grew leading us to go from crawling to walking and then eventually running and other tasks as we came of age. New neuron connections and brain pathways were consistently being created. When we become adults, we tend to get settled in a career and slow down this neurological process when we don’t challenge ourselves to evolve professionally or personally. Having a personal desire to evolve in our careers builds intrigue, growth and excitement, all factors that increase the development of our neuroplasticity.

From a corporate standpoint evolving in our careers can breed innovation within our companies and ultimately lead to a positive impact on our communities. In the late 1800’s George Washington Carver wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, he had a knack for creative artistic impressions, specifically in the area of botanical drawings. Before the days of photographs, botanists (or plant scientists) depended on precise drawings that displayed the essence of a plant’s physiology, reproductive organs, and commercial potential. In discovering this, Carver combined the two skills together, using art to provide visual insights for his scientific discoveries. But it wasn’t a skill that just gave him personal satisfaction alone or looked good for presentations.

As an agricultural scientist, Carver’s ability to combine art and science led him to discover marketable products from crops that poor southern farmers could grow, including sweet potatoes, peanuts and other horticultural products, such as fruits and vegetables. In 1941 TIME Magazine labeled him the greatest African American scientist alive in an article entitled, “Black Leonardo”, bringing reference to his many discoveries combining arts and science including finding 285 new uses for the peanut and 118 products from sweet potato including vinegar, molasses, and shoe blacking. Carver’s evolution from just being an agricultural scientist had an impact not only on his life but on thousands of others, socially and economically.

From reading about Carver’s significant contributions to understanding our brain’s full neurological growth potential, we can be confident that there are unlimited possibilities for us to evolve in our careers. Enhancing our work life and making an impact on those around us. This will be a journey of self discovery. One that will mean we’ll need to face the following truths to fully experience the career evolution we’re looking for:

We must be intentional about identifying opportunities that are not in our place of comfort or familiarity, and put ourselves in situations where our thinking and creativity can be stretched.

We must be vulnerable to admit when we don’t know something, and commit to lifelong learning and professional development.

We must be willing to invest time in building strategic relationships based on a willingness to serve and develop others, as well as learn from others, without the expectation of getting anything back in return.

Ultimately there will need to be something specific to each of us that creates a desire to evolve professionally. As the Pokemon expert explained, “Pokemon evolve because that’s what their environment demands of them”. What do our personal situations demand of us? Our ‘Why’ of evolving is just as important as how we go about achieving it. Stephen R. Covey sums this up best in his book Primary Greatness, “Security today no longer lies in the old psychological contract of lifetime employment. Security lies in the ability to continue to produce what the marketplace wants, and those wants are constantly changing. Unless people learn, grow, and progress to accommodate the market, there can be no security. Our personal development should be relevant to the economy, the industry to the company, and to our current assignment”. 

Our assignment is our purpose. And our purpose is the very thing that will ignite a passion to evolve.

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