Don’t Hack Career Growth: How to Shift Your Focus to Successful Professional Growth

Have you noticed how career growth has become an overshadowing conversation topic in many companies in recent years?

I’ve seen it lead to frustration, counterproductive behavior and even resentment more often than expected, despite the good intentions it comes with.

It shouldn’t be this way. Career Growth can be more rewarding and effective with a slight shift in focus. Fixed focus points are crucial; choosing the right ones can unlock genuine growth and the differences are often subtle, but impactful.

Choose “Personal Growth” over “Career Growth”

This may sound counterintuitive: you will not yield the results you expect by placing excessive emphasis on career growth. A career is an empty shell without a person. Shift your focus to personal growth instead.

Personal growth is an ongoing process of self-improvement and expansion of your skills, which ultimately leads to maturity. Your maturity is reflected in your capacity to collaborate and communicate effectively while navigating complex situations in a thoughtful manner that contributes to a more productive work environment.

What sets personal growth apart is that it invests in you, as an individual. This investment feels much more rewarding, as the skills you acquire aren’t just tools: they are building blocks that compound over time and are ready to be applied in any setting.

Practical Steps

  • Identify areas in which you want to grow personally. You could do this by looking around yourself and spotting others who excel at a certain skill you aspire to have.
  • Find opportunities to expose yourself to situations that allow you to train those skills. When you do, ask for constructive feedback. Your first try will not be your best, so shoulder padding won’t help.
  • You might get a long-term mentor out of this. If you do, approach your mentor with solutions to problems you face; then ask for feedback on those potential solutions.

Why to invest in your journey, not in the destination

Chasing a goal often leads to ticking off a list of tasks. This is not how growth works.

Instead of pursuing a checklist — maybe even asking others for one — identify the imperfections in your approach, results, and surroundings. Then, take ownership and optimize for the best possible version in each aspect (approach, results + surroundings). This kind of self-reflection and resulting improvement is what powers self-sustained growth.

People improving themselves and their environment is what makes them, and the companies they are part of, successful. A job title doesn’t change a thing about you, but the evolution you experience along the way does. This will take time.

Practical Steps

  • Before working on a task, ensure you are familiar with the underlying problem that needs to be solved. This instills a problem-solving mindset in you, which prompts you to think critically and innovate along the way.
  • Always strive to eliminate problems altogether, so that they don’t occur again. If that’s not possible, make sure that when it occurs again, the next person has it easier than you.

Don’t mistake visibility for impact

People often receive feedback that they need to be “more visible” and then try to increase their appearance in public settings. However, visibility alone doesn’t create any value.

In reality, visibility will be a byproduct of your impact. Impact falls into two categories: internal (company-facing) and external (customer-oriented). The relevance of each depends on your role and company size, yet both can be equally valuable.

By focusing on creating a tangible and lasting impact, you inevitably enhance your visibility and contribute to the larger good of your environment.

Practical Steps

  • What matters most in the end is value for the business. Make sure your efforts align with that and you can define the value stream that you’re impacting. You can find areas with higher-than-average impact at the intersections of multiple functions (”cross-functional collaboration”).
  • Use data and metrics to measure your impact, and put the data into relatable terms. When you share your work down the line, this data helps you to illustrate your impact.
  • Before sharing information, define the value you want others to get out of it and communicate with that intention. Often, high-value information can be your learnings from failures. Not everything you share needs to have a positive origin story.

About the Author

Florian Schliep is a software engineer & entrepreneur based in Berlin, Germany. He is available for consulting in mobile engineering strategy, hiring and due diligence.

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