When you feel under-challenged and overlooked at work, you might think „I need to go look for another job“. I can relate to the feeling, catch myself having similar thoughts. But I’d like you to consider that it might not be the right time yet.
You might feel under-challenged because you’ve become addicted to overwhelm.
We get so used to being hyper-stimulated by new challenges, by always putting out fires, by feeling overstretched, and we start to think that’s normal. And then as soon as we don’t have those feelings anymore when we stop running at 130, 150%, we feel like something is off. Thinking that this is not normal.
Truthfully though, we calibrated ourselves to being busy and stretched to a point that is neither healthy nor sustainable and certainly not necessary. We’ve become adrenalin junkies at work.
Through our dedication and enthusiasm to our work, we’ve lost our sense of what we really want in our lives and what feels normal to us.
I’m sure you too are often wishing for calmer times at work and then when these calmer times come, you feel bored. Or think you’ve hit a plateau where there’s no growth anymore.
„I’m going to be bored to death. And now what do I do? What is the next challenge?“
But in those moments, what I often find for myself and for others is that we haven’t looked far enough yet. Or shall I better say deep enough?
Looking deeper means exploring how we can get the most out of where we are right now in this moment.
The trend seems to be to switch roles every 1.5 years. But in all honesty (and I’m speaking from my own experience here), how far have you truly gotten in a role if you leave it after one and a half years?
If your current role is very similar to your previous one, maybe you’re doing the exact same job only in another company, then you don’t have as big a learning curve. I agree with that. Though it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else to learn and explore.
Even with just a small degree of difference, new projects, and so on, you typically need about three to six months to get started in the new team, to get to know the new processes and routines, and establish your new network.
That six months into the new job is the first time when you know what’s what and you learn just as much as you deliver value.
This is a sweet spot you can enjoy for at least another 6 to 12 months.
Now you’re 1.5 years in and you’re still on a very steep curve learning a lot of new things. And this is the moment where you now know enough about your work that you can not only do it but start doing it better. Instead of getting reasonably good at something and asking „What’s next?“, why not spend some more time getting excellent at what you do?
Here’s a tip from a resumé writer I once talked to about this:
In the first 1.5 years into your job you’ve probably had some small wins, but big achievements tend to take three to five years. There’s a danger that if you leave your job quickly enough times, you look like a job hopper and you don’t have substantive achievements to talk about because you didn’t stay long enough.
There are benefits to challenging ourselves in our current role rather than jumping ship.
Some of them we already discussed: Having more achievements for your resume, getting to a new level of mastery in your job, and proactively dealing with the issues as opposed to running away.
The biggest benefit though is that you have more bandwidth for other things, and so you can start to go deeper and further with that. You feel you’re in a safe space, you know your team, you know your boss, you have an established network, you know how to get work done, you’ve got all the technical skills it takes to fulfil your role.
That leaves you with so much extra bandwidth to learn all the skills that otherwise often get neglected because we’re not intentional about them. Or because you’re thrown in at the deep end of the pool. So now is the time to put non-technical skills on your development plan:
Training your flexibility & adaptability skills.
Ask yourself: Do I adapt easily to new work environments and how am I handling changing demands at work? And how can I get better at this so last-minute changes don’t stress me out as much anymore? How can I continue to deliver value when unforeseen issues occur?
Increase your optimism.
When something goes wrong in a project, do you get scared and worry all the time? Are you getting discouraged more often than you want to when you face setbacks? Training your optimism and learning to manage your own emotions will help you (and the people working with you) tremendously when the going gets tough.
Become more assertive.
You’re an expert in your field now. You have the certifications and the experience that comes from doing the work in real life. It’s time you stop doubting yourself and start leading more. Check how do you show up in meetings. Are others taking you seriously? How can you communicate so that your word carries more weight?
Find better ways to navigate company politics.
Or you might want to look at how to better navigate company politics. Understand a bit better how the networks work in a company, in your company, which stakeholders are important. Then experiment and learn how to influence them strategically instead of running over last-minute hoping they help you out with budget or resources.
These are just a few examples, but they are skills that will serve you for years to come in any job. And they are transferable which makes them another great addition to your resume.
So here’s the first step to take when you find yourself feeling unmotivated or under-challenged in your current role.
Create your own development plan. You can start from scratch, download a free template from the internet, or use the one your company provides. The key is to be intentional and take some time to think about the learning goals that you want to set yourself.
You can ask others for feedback. And your boss is probably happy to help, but you can get started by asking yourself these questions:
- What would I need to learn to get my job done even better, quicker or smoother?
- What are others doing better than I am? How can I learn from them?
- What am I doing better than others and how can I teach them? (Once we start teaching what we know we go to the next level of understanding.)
- What have I been avoiding doing because it feels slightly uncomfortable or overwhelming? What didn’t I do yet because of self-doubt?
Answering these questions should give you a great start to develop your own professional development plan and save yourself from being under-challenged.