Have you ever read a biography or saw a movie about someone’s life? There are many of them out there. It seems like every month there is a “Based on a True Story…” flick that gets released. It does not matter if the person was an athlete, a politician or even an astronaut; one thing that you will never read or hear them say is “That was the easiest thing I’ve done”. Never. Their accomplishments were hard earned. Blood, sweat and tears went into reaching another level. I would say the same applies to those of us working in the field configuring switch ports , looking over security logs and even providing phone support. No, I am not comparing surviving a war or landing on the moon to someone closing out a “My Netflix does not work in the office” ticket, but a similar mentality is needed. The mentality and actions of someone who wants to reach a higher level professionally needs to mirror those that meet challenges head on or even better: Someone who constantly looks for those challenges. Our professional lives need to be like a treadmill on a constant incline. Many times when our lives level out, we get complacent and speaking for myself, lazy. Look for a challenge and climb!
I’ve been playing the electric bass for about 18 years now. When I first started playing the bass it was like love at first sight. I would pick it up each and everyday for a practice session or just to play around. As the years went by, the amount of time I would dedicate to playing the bass went down. The time I would dedicate dwindled down to an hour or two a week. There were plenty of distractions that took time away from practice. I will again admit laziness played a part. Some things were bigger life events like marriage and children. There we’re so many things that took time away from playing the bass, including my quest for certifications gobbled up some time. Eventually the playing time shrank down to zero. There was probably a good year or so that I did not even glance at it. Recently I started playing for the church. Those first few practices were rough. I felt out of place playing the bass, but I really wanted to revisit my passion for it. I started getting back into the groove. I cannot dedicate the same amount of time I did 18 years ago, but I do my best to give it my best. I think about how much better I would be as a bass player if I kept a consistent practice schedule even during those busy moments in life. It was a challenge. It would have been difficult to balance music and my other activities, but I am sure that If I was to dig deep and force myself to do it, it would have made me a better bass player.
A constant incline, that is what our professional lives should be. We need to continue to challenge ourselves and look to climb to a higher level. Ask to be challenged. Ask for opportunities where you will learn, not just because it is a new topic or technology you have not dealt with before, but because it is something difficult. Ask to be added to a project you might think you have no business being a part of. Hopefully you are attached to a good leader who sees the potential in you and is willing to put you somewhere that might be slightly outside of your comfort zone. Diamonds are made from constant heat and pressure. Once you are given the opportunities, put in the time and the work to raise the bar.
My first few years as a network engineer were on a team with a dozen or so engineers. There was plenty to learn. The team was purely network engineering. There were other teams for voice services, call centers, servers and security. This seems to be the blueprint for many large companies. As a new engineer I welcomed that setup because I had so much to learn about networks. I had gone from IT support helping the network engineers once in a while to being given the opportunity to be an engineer. I attached myself to those smarter team members around me and became a sponge. I’d want to be a part of the projects they were working on. As the years went on, I found myself being the engineer who was teaching others. Things eventually plateaued. I kept asking leadership for more opportunities; for a little more recognition for what I was doing. The answers “Yes, eventually.” or “Keep going, it’s coming.” grew a little tiresome. I wanted a bigger challenge. I wanted more responsibility. I kept waiting myself into complacency. That is when I knew it was time. There is so much to learn. No matter what you are doing, there is still more to learn. Eventually I left the team because I found an opportunity that I knew would provide me with that challenge. Now instead of a dozen engineers, its me and one more person. That’s the network engineering team. I get to be a mentor and at the same time I am able to grow and expand my skill-set. Before I was solely working on anything network. Now it is that plus voice and some security. It’s a challenge, but how does someone get better at something without putting in work? You have to put in time; you have to reach up and make the effort to get to another level. Hopefully there is someone that can reach down to you and help you up; lend you a hand. However a lot of it is on you. You will get as far as you want to. You will climb as high as you want to.