Updated: Jan 10
As many of us return to work from the holiday season, some may be feeling dread or just a lack of enthusiasm. This may be especially true for our younger workforce. The ones who have potential but are still in entry level positions. Or our colleagues who have started a new job or a new role. Anyone feeling this way should know, there is value in the slow grind. While it can feel like you are stuck in a loop of the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog’s Day, you are moving forward.
The slow grind builds grit. You are earning experience. And if you stay with you can take this time to be prepared for that next opportunity. Keep grinding, keep trying to learn, and accept each challenge.
I was working for a large corporation who was paying for me to finish my degree at university. I was proud of the company I worked for. I loved the department and the work. I was learning so many principals and theories at school that I wanted to share with my colleagues and business leaders. As I was completing finals my senior year a supervisor position opened in my department.
The work I was doing had gotten easy and no longer had the excitement that comes with learning and challenges. I was ready for the next challenge. There were a couple of other colleagues that were going to apply for the position. All people who were good performers, took on extra work, and were knowledgeable in our field. But they had not just written pages and pages on change management, management of virtual teams, and creating growth mindsets.
I felt confident going through the interviewing process. I answer questions with everything the company had paid for me to learn at university. I had done the grind of a full-time job and a full course load at school. The day came when our leaders had made the decision. I received a phone call from the hiring manager’s boss. I had my acceptance comments ready.
The hiring manager’s boss informed me that while my depth of academic knowledge was impressive, he needed to see it applied. He saw great potential in me and loved my passion, but I needed more experience. I needed time to show how the theories I was so proud to discuss could work. I wrote down his feedback because I was in such shock. I was not in a headspace to take it all in.
I had all the answers… so I thought. This is what they sent me learn… I got good grades. Potential felt like an insult. After all that work, I still was not good enough, but I could be – maybe someday? How could I show these theories could be applied if I was not going to be in a supervisor role? Where was this experience going to come from that had not happened over the last two years? What if all this knowledge was forgotten by the chance, I had time to apply it?
I went back to work. The first few days were a blur. I was going through the motions, but I was not fully engaged. My mind raced with more questions than answers. I kept replaying the interviewing process. I tried to recall each word and interpret each conversation.
After about a week I took the notes, I had written down from the conversation into a conference room by myself. I had to change the script running in my mind. This was all too important to me to walk away. I needed to find a way through it. I wrote the following on the white board in the conference room.
Potential – Other people believe in my ability to be successful
Passion – I created a sense of importance about this work in other people
Experience – Examples of moments I have successfully executed the theories I learned
My next challenge was not going to be a new role. These three statements were my next challenge. I needed to build some grit to get over this humbling moment and turn it into an opportunity. I stood back and looked at the white board for a few minutes and asked how I turned this into a clear statement I could carry with me each day. I wanted to tackle this challenge so when the next opportunity came, I would be ready. I walked back the board and wrote,
“Find moments in my own work to implement the theories I have learned and when successful share that approach with those around me.”
Twenty years later and I can tell you I take this mentality with me into everything I do. People want others to succeed. People feed off good energy. People respect those who have faced adversity and had the grit to pull themselves back up.
When I left that conference room I went back to my desk and looked at my work through a different lens. I kept a blank notebook with me all day. As I worked, I would make notes about how I could apply what I had learned at school. I made notes about what I was learning from my work and what could make it more efficient. I made notes about how to be a better communicator. I made notes about how to be a better leader.
The first opportunity came a year later, when my department identified a problem, they wanted to solve and needed a few lead positions to step in and develop a process, escalation path, and way to communicate with other departments. This was going to involve change for not just the people in our department but in other departments as well. I hesitantly applied and went through the interview process.
This time I was not as confident. I did not have all the answers. I did, however, have ideas. I also had some examples of how I had solved this problem at my own desk. I had examples of where I had helped people in other departments look at the problem with a solution-based mindset. I had anecdotes about helping teammates through change. I did not talk theory in this interview. I shared stories. I got the job!
So, if you are one of those people who are showing up to grind through your day, change your script. Or if you have recently been hit with the blow of not getting a raise or promotion you were excited for, step back a minute. Take some time for reflection. Focus on what is important to you. Focus on how you can find those moments of experience. Tap into your grit to pull yourself up. In all of this you will be preparing yourself for when the next opportunity comes.