I’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years — engineer, manager, teacher, founder, coach, and others in between. I’m often asked why I don’t just settle into a role and stick with it. It’s a good question. Switching roles can be overwhelming, challenging, and even depressing at times. Still, it is a practice I can’t recommend highly enough.
Throughout my childhood, I moved a lot. Not only did I have to switch to new schools multiple times, but also to new countries, and even new continents. While I struggled with the many challenges such a journey comes with, I later came to appreciate the benefits. More than anything, growing up in different places and integrating in different communities gives you incredibly valuable perspective. It affords you the ability to look at people and problems from across the globe with a much greater sense of empathy and understanding.
Work communities offer similar characteristics. The more you expose yourself to different roles and teams, the more you’re able to understand others, and work effectively with them. You become not just a member of one team, but a connector, collaborator and communicator across many different teams and organizations. By scaling the diversity of your experiences, you scale the breadth of your opportunities. The value of this skill cannot be overstated.
Early on in my career, I used to think there would be a single role I’d finally settle into some day. I assumed I’d come upon the proverbial just right porridge, and my professional stomach would be warm and full forever.
Turns out it really is just a fairy tale.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how silly it is to assume that such a thing could even exist. We all change. We grow. We evolve. Our careers need to evolve with us, lest we find ourselves stagnant. You already know what it feels like when your current role begins to get stale. Every day has a tinge of monotony to it. You feel trapped, but aren’t sure what the cage is.
Then it happens. Suddenly, you find yourself startled. Something feels different, and the sensation feels almost alien because you’ve become so used to the regularity of it all. You just spent hours on something, yet you are somehow more energized afterward. What was that?
It is precisely in this moment, when you sense the wind behind your sails, that you are most alive. Remember it. Cherish it. It will be your guide as you begin your relentless pursuit to seek out more of it. It is this very pursuit that drives me to new pastures so soon after finding a cozy spot in the grass.
There are many, many (many) reasons why you should not switch roles. Your boss might tell you about them. Your friends will definitely tell you about them. Your mind will echo them infinitely, time and time and time again. I know them too well. These reasons pile up so high, they eventually become a mountain in our minds. This is your mountain of transition, and you must climb it.
You may feel intimidated by the mountain’s sheer size, majesty, and might. Don’t worry — I’m right here with you. Let’s fight through these reasons together, one step at a time.
“You’re lucky to even be where you are. It is ungrateful and selfish to give that up.”
I am thankful for what I have, and I am grateful for where I am, but neither of those defines who I am. I deserve the freedom to follow who I want to be, wherever that may take me.
“You’ll be starting from scratch all over again. It’s such a waste.”
It is never a waste to work towards what I want (after all, that’s how I got here in the first place!). The real waste would be spending so many years of effort to reach a place, only to discover I can never leave it.
“You’re really good at what you do. You should keep doing it.”
It is not sufficient to simply be good at what I do. It must also give me energy as I am doing it. Without being activated by my work, I am simply a slave to my skills.
“You’re successful. Don’t throw that away.”
What is the point of a successful career, if it means I am confined to serve it forever? That is a lifetime obligation, not a worthy occupation. I must define success on my own terms.
“Your coworkers are your friends. When you leave, you’ll be all alone.”
If they really are my friends, I will always have them.
…Phew! I think we’ve fought off the worst of them. I hope you feel at least a fraction more emboldened to take that first step in your own pursuit. We all need to keep climbing our mountains, or risk freezing in the bitter cold of stillness.
I should warn you though — once we reach the peak, the weather will surely change.
Eventually, we’ll need to find another mountain.