Hiking at Sight
Having No Clue What Lies Ahead
'Honestly, I do not have the slightest clue'. I felt caught when both a good friend and my manager asked me what I considered to be the next career step. It was not the first time I did not have a clear answer to this. It made me think and realise that I only have a rough objective in mind. How to get there is quite a mystery to me. I felt a little lost, like in a misty sea. After a while, it crossed my mind that it might be okay. Let me explain why by taking you through my mind.
The Common Thread
I am good at overthinking and taking a structured approach to things that affect my personal development. As part of the first development talk at SumUp, I gathered feedback from peers, stakeholders and my manager; derived actionable insights and common themes; did a self-assessment using our career growth framework; defined growth areas; defined concrete steps for the next six months. I put all this together as a Notion page and shared it with feedback providers, with the aim of them supporting me but above all keeping me accountable.
However, I do not have a single grasp of what I am aiming for next. The natural next step would be to progress further in the People Partner domain. Some friends and colleagues have mentioned that they see me in engineering management as a team lead, focusing on people and processes rather than tech. Others in advisory roles or more strategic positions like Chief of Staff to tech executives.
I feel (not too) comfortable in organisational effectiveness and development while collaborating closely with and being a sparring partner to the leadership team. It would be nice, though, to work even more strategically and data-driven.
Nothing lights up Advocates like creating a solution that changes people's lives. 16 Personalities
Looking back over my career, only a few see a pattern. However, there is one common thread, and that is essentially my inner drive. It is the belief that we as human beings have much more potential to unleash. Thus I am motivated by the idea of finding and creating ways to change others' lives for the better; specifically by shaping workplaces where we feel a sense of belonging and can be our best selves. I just realised that this is written nearly one-to-one in both the MBTI and the Big Five personality profiles (INFJ and empathic idealist).
Start with Why
You may have already noticed what I am referring to. It is the essence of Simon Sinek's bestseller Start with Why. Admittedly, there have been more fun books to read, but only a few have shaped the way I communicate like this. Sinek says that people are mainly inspired by the why, so we should put this at the core of our communication — followed by the how and finally the what. Yet, this is often approached the other way around because the what is by far the most tangible. It should rather serve as tangible proof of our beliefs, though.
Especially when we kick off organisational initiatives or help leaders improving their communication, I keep coming back to the following: it is essential to be clear about the why and to be able to communicate, even overcommunicate, this. Mind that it is not all about what you say, though. It is also about the discipline to back up those words with actions and decisions and to communicate non-verbally. Consistency helps people see what you believe. It makes you authentic.
If you want to feel happy, do something for yourself. If you want to feel fulfilled, do something for someone else. Simon Sinek
We have already briefly touched on my personal vision and mission. To pursue this, it is vital to be true to my values and principles; only this way, I am at peace with myself, and I find support along the journey. I strive to face daily challenges, both small and large, with compassion, humility and integrity. This includes applying critical thinking to my ideas even more than I do to the ideas of others and setting the bar for moral standards higher rather than too low. Of course, having fun, making lasting memories, and not sacrificing well-being are all part of the equation. That usually works, but unfortunately, not always.
Looking back at a blog post from more than one and a half years ago, you find the same purpose and values. Although I worked in a different company in a different role, the basic mindset was the same. So for me, it is secondary in which role I help to unleash the potential of others. The why and how set the direction.
It Is Gonna Be Alright
I would be lying if I said I always felt comfortable with it. Even though you should not compare yourself to others, you do from time to time, especially to people on a high trajectory career. I try to remind myself in those moments that it is okay not to know what is next. So many roads are leading not only to Rome but also there, and on each one, I learn something new and to see things through different eyes.
My aspiration is to gather experiences and tools that help me sustainably change tech leadership and organisations for the better. For now, I have chosen to keep developing in my role, filling my toolbox and thereby growing and preparing for future challenges. So what will be the next step after being a People Partner? No idea. One step at a time. Quite exciting, yet intimidating.
You only need to know the direction, not the destination. The direction is enough to make the next choice. James Clear
Enough about me. Hopefully, the example showed that it can be enlightening to understand what motivates you and what matters to you most. If you have not an answer yet, ask yourself what drives you every day. What is your common thread that emerges as you look at your career? Do you feel safe sharing this with others? Just a little food for thought — keep discovering yourselves.
P.S. I was recently tagged under a tweet asking how we measure our career goals and whether/how the manager has insight into them. After I summarised how I have been doing this since joining SumUp, some asked for more details. So stay tuned for the next post in January, including a Notion template.