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Category: Career

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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True Compensation

A few years back I left a company I had been working at for 10 years for another position elsewhere. Though it was a more of a lateral move, the base salary the new company offered was $27,000 more than my current pay.

I reviewed minor details like the expectations of the role, daily commute, and main benefits package. It was enough for me to make the move. It ended up being the worst career move I’ve ever made. Aside from being a toxic environment, I miss calculated my compensation offer.

A chunk of my base salary was put into a mandatory pension fund and I had 1 less week paid vacation . When all was said and done, my expected $27,000 ‘take home’ increase looked a lot less.

Compensation at times is challenging to calculate. While we focus on base pay and benefits as the main drivers for our decision, it’s easy to over look other areas such as: the working environment, company core values, potential future growth and sustainability. Even basic benefits like an opportunity to participate in a pension or matched RRSP plan, and negotiating vacation should all be considered.

In the end there shouldn’t be a price tag on our mental health and wellness. No amount of compensation should be accepted in exchange for it. Doing as much upfront research as possible on a company can help avoid this from happening.

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What’s Your Favourite Chocolate Bar?

As I’m writing this I currently work for one of the world’s largest chocolate and pet food manufacturers. Mars Inc. has been around for over 100 years and I was fortunate enough to land a position with them in their commercial division last spring.

But that’s how it’s currently going, not how it started.

In 2015 I had applied for a different position with Mars and was invited in for an interview. Though I could have answered some of the questions better, overall I felt I had wrapped up the discussion on a high note. That’s until they asked me the final question:

Mars: “So what’s your favourite chocolate bar?”

Me: “Reese peanut butter cups.”

Mars: “Hmm, oh ok that’s not one of ours.”

Me: {Makes awkward smiley face}

In my preparation I overlooked one of the most basic fundamental principles in impressing during an interview: understanding the difference between a company’s products and their competitors.

Not saying that mishap was the reason I didn’t get the job, but I’m confident it didn’t help my cause.

My advice: over prepare for big opportunities. The devil will always be in the details.

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What’s in Your Playbook?

Maps. Navigational systems. Playbooks.

Getting to our destination requires using one of these tools to make it happen. So what’s in your playbook?

What books do you have listed to read next year that will get you to the next level in your career, or help you expand you business? Or how about books for being a better spouse, parent or friend?

What courses are you planning on taking to learn a new skill or sharpen an old one? Maybe a course on health and wellness?

Do you have a mentor or coach that can help you see the blind spots in your life or push you become a high performer in your life and career?

What tools have you invested in to track your progress? (Note: investing could mean just downloading an app)

You rarely get to your desired destination by chance. Setting up your playbook in advance is the prerequisite for ensuring you get there.

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Accepting Roles We Don’t Want

I’ve had to let go a hand full of employees in the last 3 years. Mostly due to poor performance.

The most difficult was letting go an individual who arguably was one of the highest skilled professionals on my team.

Though highly skilled, before I took over management of the team, he accepted the position for which he was overqualified for with the previous manager. He constantly struggled to stay on task for the daily duties and lacked discipline to focus on the details.

Ultimately when we sat to go over his exit interview, his response to the poor performance was, “I joined the company in hopes of eventually getting a role in my specific professional background. The role I’m doing now is not what I’m interested in”.

My response to him was that approach wasn’t acceptable based on the needs of the role, his coworkers and our customers. He seemed disinterested in that response and for that reason I had to let him go.

The growth potential from taking on diverse roles and functions in route to our ultimate goal can be limitless. Sometimes it’s a painful road. It takes shutting down our ego sometimes to be open to these possibilities.

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Change the Energy

About 8 or 9 years ago, the company I worked for held their annual event for all employees, highlighting major accomplishments from around the company, as well as future business strategies.

It would typically take pace at a upscale hotel or country club with speakers schedule throughout the day. Each department had to share a slide deck and talk about their team’s successes over the past year.

That year my manager picked me to speak for our team even though I had never done so in previous years. Before I went on my manager introduced me, and in a strange way referred to me in reference to my faith.

“So I’m calling up Sheldon who will of course be in heaven one day…” A little embarrassed by such an awkward introduction, on the fly I decided to change things up.

“You know my manager says I’m going to heaven. That’s funny because right now I’m nervous as hell.”

The entire audience blew up laughing like I had just told a joke on Showtime at the Apollo. That one comment completely shifted the energy in the room and I immediately felt comfortable sharing my presentation.

Being your authentic self can shift the energy and atmosphere in a positive way to those around you. It cuts tension and gives others the courage and permission to do the same.

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Reshape What Failure Really Is

When I had to execute 60 presentations in about 4 weeks there was bound to be times when I would go brain dead, have my voice crack and for technology to betray me in the form of multiple glitches.

When any of those unfortunate events would happen, I would continue with the presentation and wouldn’t give attention to the obvious mishap.

Our culture has defined failure as anything less than perfection and we’ve bought into it. It’s the reason we stay in comfortable, repetitive, well paying jobs we loath instead of pursuing meaning work and fulfilling life projects.

Doing what we love opens up too many opportunities to fail, because when we start something we often have no clue what we’re doing. That of course gives license for those around us to criticize.

Our cultural understanding of failure needs a major shift. It’s not the absence of perfection, it’s our response after making mistakes and the underlying lesson we can take from it.

How do we forge ahead? What changes will we make to our process? Is this worth pursuing after our last results?

Ultimately failure isn’t an absolute. It should always be a gateway to infinite continuous improvement in every area of our lives.

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Everyone Doesn’t Know Something

For those times you feel intimidated in meetings, not fully comprehending what’s being discussed.

For those times when you start a new role and are not sure where to turn for resources.

For every email that comes through from corporate but you were never trained on the company process being addressed on the message.

For all those awkward situations, there will always be moments where you’ll be the sole source to answer some of the most critical issues facing your company.

At any given time in your career you will inevitably fall on either side of the knowledge scenario. It’s important to remember that everybody does.

So be honest when you don’t hold the answer and uphold confidence when you do.

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Projects Come in Many Sizes

Why do we need Project Managers when we have corporate VPs, directors, managers, assistant managers, coordinators and other skilled associates?

Because some projects take longer than others to execute and require the skill set of being meticulous when everyone else wants immediate results.

Project Managers are really architects of patience. They understand results mean more than just getting it done. The slow grind is essential to ensure the job is done with excellence.

Like Project Management our lives and careers need to be centred on substance and not speed. That can only be done when we focus on our singular purpose and not look to keep up with the pace of those around us.

Building bigger, better, stronger, more effective, and sustainable comes with an awareness that the most important projects are the ones that will need a deeper investment in time and patience.

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Match the Right Intensity

If you’ve ever played organized sports at any level, you would have experienced your coach telling you to “match the intensity level” of your opponent. If they played hard in the trenches, you would need to do the same. If they trashed talked after a play, you’d trash talk back showing you aren’t intimidated.

Physical displays of domineering fortitude are commonplace in the athletic field of play and often provide a physiological advantage against your adversaries.

The same can’t be said in the professional workplace or when engaging in entrepreneurship leadership.

Contrary to popular opinion, matching the intensity from a physical or vocal standpoint in the boardroom is more of a sign of insecurity than it is a display of strength.

Stirring you passions away from an emotional reaction, and into making a strategic impact should be the focus. A well developed strategy that highlights the disadvantages or weaknesses of other suggested options (fact based of course) is the best way to match the intensity of your professional opposition.

In other worlds, intensity in the the workplace is more about brains than brawn.

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