Sooner or Later, We All Reach Our Peak. Is It All Downhill From There?
By Steve Schumacher
We are fired up when we get our first job, we do our best to please our bosses, look for ways to succeed and relish our achievements. As time goes by, we get into a routine, have difficulty with change, and start to feel like there is nothing new under the sun.
In the final stages of our career, we may become dissatisfied and look forward to time off more than seeking new challenges and achievements. In some corners, this is known as the Peter Principle – we tend to advance until we reach our level of incompetence.
So, how do you know when you are reaching that point between maturity and decline? There are several things you might recognize that are red flags. Since for most of us, being objective about our own behavior is impossible, try to get some feedback from someone you trust.
Working late. Early in our careers, we do not have a problem working late on a regular basis. Our energy levels are high and we know our boss will be impressed. Over time, with family responsibilities and outside interests growing, our willingness to work late may diminish. It seems to be more of a chore than something you gladly do in the interest of the company and your individual success.
Balance work hours and family time is a challenge for nearly everyone. There is no perfect answer that fits everyone. There is an old truism about success comes to those that are first in and last out.
There are certainly other factors, but bosses tend to notice, whether they say it or not. Just make a choice about the time you are willing to spend on work and do the very best you can with that time. These days, people understand much more than they did 20 years ago.
Behavior in meetings. When we are new to the company and are asked to attend various meetings, we look forward to them, do our homework, and make sure we add value to the meetings. Before long, we sometimes recognize that most meetings are meaningless and we stop contributing, and may even stop attending. In the meetings we attend, we sit quietly, speak up only when asked, look forward to the end of the meeting, and say things like “we’ve always done it this way.”
Ask some trusted co-workers what the general perception is of you in meetings. Be prepared to hear some challenging news. We all want to be in only productive meetings, but that is not life. Look for ways to give some constructive feedback to meeting leaders and participate positively.
Performance reviews. Remember the days when you went after your yearly goals like a rabid dog? You wanted so much to look good to your boss, get the highest rating, and get the raises and bonuses you were entitled to. You acted on the feedback your boss gave you and actively sought coaching from your boss and other mentors. Now, you may be feeling that the reviews are unfair, so why even try. You only really work hard a month before the reviews, because you know that is all your boss will remember. You feel like the boss has favorites and you are not one of them.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, companies use reviews to divide up money and stack rank employees. If your review results are so-so, your future will be so-so also. If you have had several years of average reviews, you have a mountain to climb. If you want to turn that around, have a heart-to heart with your boss and act on the feedback you get.
Collaboration. Early in your career, you knew the value of networking and collaborating with people in other departments. You took on extra projects and looked forward to learning more about the rest of the company.
You relished the visibility you got from being on committees and work teams that presented to senior management. Now, things like that upset your routine and, if you get asked to participate, you find ways to convince others that you are just too busy. Besides, you feel that sharing your knowledge and skills with others will make you less valuable.
Recognize that senior executives prize people that can collaborate. It is the lifeblood of all companies. Again, ask for some feedback on how you are perceived by other departments.
Everything we do in life is a choice. We choose to be satisfied with our current situation or we choose to make a difference. Whatever you choose, feel good about your choice and act accordingly.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].