I’ve been on the fast track before and I think it’s overrated.
It’s fairly easy to stand out in most endeavors, if you are a person of ambition. Show up to everything, and show up prepared. Pay attention and take notes when someone offers to explain something to you. Make yourself useful. Remember people’s names.
If you have intrinsic motivation - that is, your own personal internal reasons for being there - it will show. That motivation attracts people like a beacon. It doesn’t take long before opportunities start being handed to you every time you turn around. The more you do, the more you’re asked to do, and you start getting increased responsibility.
That’s the fast track.
The trouble with the fast track is that it doesn’t give you time to build relationships or get to know the deep culture of the organization.
That’s why I decided that the next time I took something on, I would do it the slow way.
I had to realize, for my own good, that every time I get involved with something I wind up in a leadership role. Not because I have massive charisma or anything - in fact, probably quite the opposite. The problem is more that when I get involved with something, I start noticing how much work it takes, and I start picking up litter or stacking chairs.
The grunt work is how you meet the real movers and shakers of any organization.
It turns out that it’s nearly impossible to do a lot of service work without getting noticed. If your goal is invisibility, there has to be a different way.
I realized that I don’t know how to be involved in a recreational activity just for the fun and relaxation of it. I don’t know how to just buy a ticket, have a nice time, and go home. I keep finding myself on the cleanup crew. Or, worse, the steering committee.
After finding myself on the board of two separate organizations in a row, I finally had to accept that there was a theme in my behavior. 1. I would get involved in something, 2. I would start volunteering to help run it, 3. It would take over my life until I was doing something org-related every day of the week.
That was when it hit me, if I was going to work rather than play, then I might as well start getting paid for it again...
I took a job.
A paid job!
I sat myself down and said, Self, it’s probably going to happen again. You’re going to do what you always do, which is to get curious and start asking questions. Then things are going to start rolling.
I’ve started to think in the four-year time horizon. If I start throwing myself into a new activity, even if I am truly terrible at it in the beginning, within four years I tend to have a pretty solid grasp of how things work. That seemed completely plausible in a new role at a new company.
I have probably twenty years of career arc ahead of me. A lot can happen in twenty years.
This is, by the way, a very difficult mindset for a twenty-year-old kid to hold. At that age, I would not have had the patience to think, I may be in this role for four years, and that’s okay. Also I couldn’t afford it. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t think in terms of skills or certifications or increasing responsibilities. I thought in terms of my rent taking up over 80% of my income.
Now I have the time and the wherewithal to relax and look around a bit.
There are certifications I could run out and get for myself over a long weekend, or perhaps within six weeks. There are a bunch of things I could cram for in a very short time that I could tack onto my resume. If all I wanted was more money, I could target a search for open roles and start shooting my shot.
This is somewhat of an experiment, but I don’t think that’s actually the fast track. In some ways, I think it’s faster to go slower.
One thing that money cannot buy is reputation.
Reputation is the slow track.
When I was young, I used to wonder why So-and-So got a promotion. Or not really wonder, just hear about it and get mad. Isn’t it obvious that I’m the one who really needs that money! That was an improvement over my original idea, at 18, which was, Isn’t it obvious that I’m the smartest person here??
(If you’re so smart, why aren’t you the one getting the promotion?)
Now, I actually wonder. That is, I ponder over what skills that person has demonstrated, what types of problems they are known to solve, and how they earned their reputation. If A, that person has definable traits that got them a promotion, and B, I can figure out what those traits are, then C, I can work to acquire those promotable traits.
It’s also slightly more complicated than that, in the sense that not every promotion is one we would want.
I’m finally in a place where I can be glad for someone who got promoted, and also realize that I myself would never want that particular job.
Part of the slow track is figuring out how the organization is run, what roles it takes to get everything done, and then where you do and do not see yourself eventually.
For instance, in the space industry, there are a lot of jobs in shifts all around the clock. I sometimes think, I bet someone else absolutely hates working in the middle of the night, but they do it because it needs to get done. I, on the other hand, am a born night owl. Wouldn’t it be nice for everyone if that was my job?
I haven’t been at my current job for a year yet. I’m still figuring out how they do things. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in five years.
That’s okay, though, because on the slow track you can take your time to figure it out. All I need to know is that I like this place well enough that I might still be there in twenty years.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies