The Myth of Becoming Made
The quest for the next promotion in order to feel made was unsatisfying. It was an inherit part of schooling. Getting an engineering degree meant you could get an engineering job and provide for your family. On closer inspection, an engineering degree gives you the opportunity to get an engineering job, but the degree itself doesn’t mean you have “arrived.” For me, it was getting a Ph.D., and I thought I would then be qualified for research roles, and I wouldn’t have to prove myself.
Then I went to the job market, and sure enough, even with a glimmering resume or C.V. (if I could be so fancy), I still had to prove to potential employers so that they could trust what was on my resume. I thought that was the point of going to a prestigious school, but again, it just gives a person a better foot in the door. I have not better understood this concept since becoming a manager where I have to find talent to hire.
At my first job out of graduate school, I was just happy to be working. Over time though, I got resentful that each year passed without a promotion to a more senior role considering my background and my job. There were other factors at play than simply my performance, and ultimately I left that job without having been promoted. Just because I have the qualifications doesn’t grant me anything. The other frustrating bit was not knowing where I stood relative to a promotion or what I needed to do to get there.
When I started at Apple, I felt like I wasn’t as capable or as talented as I had previously thought. Over the course of the first year and a half, I really pushed myself to understand how I could improve with the ultimate quest being The Promotion. I had tagged my self-worth on the recognition of such, and it was easy to see how I could be forever stuck. This was particularly important because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay in California. My wife and I said we would stay for four years, but if a promotion wasn’t in sight, it seemed like career suicide to stay.
At some point in the mix, between a few conversations with trusted mentors and friends, I began to truly understand the process. Someone wasn’t promoted because they hit the proper qualifications for higher responsibility; they were promoted because they were already qualified or over-qualified and an opportunity arose.
I was able to let go my quest for a promotion. I decided I would do a good job like normal person, and not harp about what I didn’t have. I realized that what happens after I get a promotion? Then do I fret about the next level and how far away it is or how hard it is to achieve? What level is the level to feel like I have made it? A good friend reminded me that just by being at Apple, I had made it. My perspective was warped by working with many talented people working at Apple to where I didn’t see just the job itself as being something to be proud of.
In 2017, I started on a piece of a project that was new. It was a new way to do some of the data collection and analysis, and I lead the way. After a few months of leading this small team, I was promoted. I didn’t feel any different the day I was promoted because it was a smooth transition from what I had already been doing and been responsible for. Now what? Should I strive to level up or accept where I’m at and thrive in it?