I remember at the beginning of my career as a web developer how I’d watch the clock and bolt when 5pm rolled in. Back then, work was just something I had to do to get money. I thought I had a pretty good work-life balance, and I was fine until I started losing passion and getting bored. I needed more of a challenge and wanted a greater leadership role at work. That’s when I realized I needed to make some changes.
Leader or Contributor: A Factory Analogy
Whether you’re new in your career or a veteran, the question you have to ask yourself is how much impact and influence do you really want? You can’t have passion for something that doesn’t satisfy you. That’s why it’s important to understand what role you really want, even if you’re not ready for it yet.
To make this question easier to understand, try to think about a manufacturing plant scenario.
The plant produces the same items every day, with workers overseeing the operation. There’s a floor manager that makes sure things are running smoothly and line-workers who actually manufacture the products. The people at the plant don’t decide what’s produced, that’s the head office, but they are responsible for the quality and accuracy of the products they help make.
Understanding your Career Choices
I like the factory analogy because it illustrates the three main types of roles. You have the line-worker, the floor manager, and the head office. Each of these roles are important in their own right. If you were to remove any of them, eventually the operation would grind to a halt.
The question I pose to you is which of these types of roles do you see yourself in? Your goal should always be to do your job with purpose. If you haven’t really given this thought, it’s time to do it.
An individual contributor role that’s almost all hands on. This is where things actually get made, and requires ingenuity and efficiency. Ideas to optimize production usually originate from here. A high level of technical knowledge is what’s valuable, along with general reliability. On the other hand, there’s little decision-making as to what actually gets produced. Your job is to produce what you’re told to in the best way possible.
The Floor Manager
A management role that involves a lot of planning and organization. Strategy is important for the floor manager because she has to organize for the big picture. She can’t go home each day and forget about work, instead she’s most likely planning for the next day during her commute. While her knowledge of the floor operation is important, she’s not getting her hands dirty on a regular basis—although sometimes she steps in to aid a worker who needs a hand.
The Head Office
These guys are making the hard calls, deciding the direction to take the company and what to produce. They’re eating and breathing this stuff, having to understand the impact their decisions make across the market. The company vision comes from here, along with the strategy needed to make it successful. Occasionally, they’ll peak in on the factory, just to make sure the reports they get are accurate, but besides that, have little time for anything operational. The trade they’ve made for their leadership, creativity, and authority is meetings—tons of meetings.
Deciding The Path for Yourself
I spent some time being in a line-worker type of role. I enjoyed it for a while, doing my best to increase my technical skills and find ways to make better products. Over time, however, I started realizing that my passion was drying up and I was getting bored. I had to take a step back and think about which path I wanted to take and how to stay passionate and motivated with my decision.
In our factory example, line-workers who want more of a challenge have two options. The first is to push for working on much more complex technical challenges. Your influence will grow, and so will your level of responsibility, but you’ll retain the ability to stay hands on. Just because you want more of a challenge doesn’t mean you need to move on from this role—I can’t stress this point enough. More challenge does mean being more committed and involved, however. Although your shift may end at 5pm, you’ll start caring more about your work even outside of the standard hours.
The other option—and in no way the better of the two—is to work your way up to being floor manager. If you have a greater drive towards leadership, taking on more responsibility is the only way to get that privilege. This is a give and take role. If these managers were to completely shut down at 5pm and stop caring about work, then there would be a domino effect in lost productivity and interest.
You may be a person who fits well in the head office, and if that’s the case, you’ll need to work your way up there. That’s where you’ll have the most impact and influence. On the other hand, you’ll also have to deal with all the bureaucracy that’s part of any organization. Your technical skills will matter the least here, although depending on the company you’re in, your background may still come in handy.
Bringing out Your Passion
Overall, the message that I’m conveying is that it’s important for you to be purposeful in your career choices. If the passion for what you do is drying out, it’s time to start thinking about if you’re on the right career path. Also, there’s nothing wrong with trying another track for a time to see if it’s a better fit for you. Sometimes a brief period of change is enough to put everything back into perspective.
For me personally, I struggled for a long time with my two career passions. I always loved being a software engineer—building things is awesome—but I knew strategy and leadership was what made me feel truly valuable. It took me a long time of weighing the two, and after many years, realized I could get more passion into the work I do by embracing a leadership position.
Your conclusions will be your own, but start thinking about what you’re passionate about and where you hope to go one day. Maybe today you’re set, but tomorrow is always a new chapter waiting to be written. You should be passionate about what you do for a living. If you’re not, that isn’t right. Never accept for yourself anything less than that. So, if you’re struggling, make a change. It might be a difficult move to do now, but it’ll be worth so much more later.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik