The Race for More

For a long time I viewed my career as the pursuit for more – more responsibility, more projects, more money.  The object was to grow, climb the ladder, see how far I could climb.

I make no apologies for my ambition.  No one should.  There is nothing wrong with seeking to better oneself. 

However, that is not how I look at my career today.  Perhaps it’s my stage in life or the cumulative effect of recent events, but “more” is no longer the objective.  That is not to say I am any less ambitious than I was years ago.  I unquestionably am.

Years ago, I had the very good fortune to work with a gifted executive coach named John McKee.  I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I was sharing with John my thoughts about a pending corporate restructure.  I thought that if I played my cards right, I could emerge from the restructure with more responsibility, a larger team to manage, and increased access and influence.

John listened patiently before responding, “It sounds exciting, Fred.  But you know there’s job enlargement and there’s job enrichment.  The most fulfilled people know the difference and act accordingly.  You should think about that and understand what that means for you before proceeding.”

To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought at the time.  My feeling was the larger the job the richer and happier I’d be.  You can’t grow without getting more.  I ended up getting what I wanted and continued to climb.

But looking back on it I should have listened more carefully to John’s advice.  Bigger isn’t always better.  And crossing the finish line first in races up the corporate ladder doesn’t always make you feel like a winner in the long run.

I’ve thought more about the idea of job enrichment versus job enlargement recently because I believe we are about to enter an unprecedented era for marketers and media professionals, and knowledge-based workers in general.  The pandemic was a brutal experience for many.  However, it spawned a mass experiment in remote working that, while not perfect, proved to be much more productive and successful than anyone could have imagined.  There’s been a rush in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship which are re-energizing our economy.

The cumulative effect of all this will be, in my view, to change the balance of power between talented employees and their employers.  The ambitious marketer now has many more options.  They are no longer as bound by geography or limited by a shaky economy.  Companies that don’t acknowledge the new realities will have trouble recruiting and retaining talent. 

As we enter this “Age of the Worker” (as some in the media have called it), I think John’s advice is ever more relevant.  Ambition is a good thing.  But you won’t find fulfillment without a clear view of how the object of your ambition impacts your work experience or other aspects of your life.

Before you lobby for that promotion or jump to a new role make sure you’ve done the work to understand what it is that you want.  In my experience often the promotion or new job leads to both job enlargement and job enrichment, but not every time.  You may find yourself in a bigger job but further removed from the work you most enjoy doing.

This is a complex, multi-layered issue that I admittedly am simplifying to make a point.  These decisions are uniquely personal.  But every time I think about it I am reminded of what Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits series, wrote, “There’s nothing sadder than climbing the career ladder to the top and finding out that you don’t enjoy the view.”

The race is about to get much more exciting.  Now is a great time to be in our industry.  Before any of us step up to the starting line, we need to truly understand what winning means.

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