“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. While it was a little choppy climbing out, we successfully reached our cruising altitude and anticipate a smooth flight from here. We invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight…”
You have heard this announcement many times. Chances are – you complied with it just as often. Nothing better than having the “hard” work done and now the autopilot can take over while you relax and enjoy the ride.
What concerns me is I see too many using this same approach with their career. You do the hard work to get where you are, but then look for an autopilot button to settle into a ‘comfortable cruising altitude.’ The consequence? You stop climbing and growing. Worse – a gravitational pull begins to drag you from being the ‘go-to’ guy/gal to the one who is ‘over looked’ or ‘worked around’.
If you don’t pilot your career and use thrust (effort) to get lift – you coast toward a premature landing!
Now many of you are probably thinking – “Not me, I’m not on autopilot or cruise control.”
I understand the denial, but autopilot and cruise control are subtle. You may not realize you ‘hit the button.’ Here are examples of the subtle signs I hear:
- “I never thought I would get this far.”
- “I am making more money than I ever thought I would make.”
- “I did not think I would work for a company this cool.”
- “This is the greatest job I could ever hope for.”
- “I love my boss. He/she is the best I ever had.”
- “I like my job – why rock the boat.”
- “I’ve only got 6 more years – I might as well just stick it out.“
- “I’ll worry about a better job when I don’t have so much debt to pay.“
- “I finally figured this job out – why leave?”
Any of these expressions are symptomatic of autopilot and cruise control. Whenever you exceed that which you hoped for – you are vulnerable to autopilot. If you stop looking for the next challenge or learning opportunity – you are on cruise control. This isn’t about “promotions.” It is about the cessation of growth and development. It is based on the reality that the world is growing and if you don’t – by definition, you fall behind. Let me explain.
Your world is complex and dynamic, there is no way of staying “at altitude” unless you are putting extra thrust and effort into your “engines.” It is not that you are going to lose altitude, it is that the scale, scope, and complexity of your job continues to increase. You stay at one level (of skill, knowledge, perspective, ability) and your job increases in expectation – you fall victim to gravitational pull. You lose altitude (effectiveness) because the horizon in which you are flying is bigger.
Before we go further – please separate the difference between being “content” or “happy” from autopilot. Contentment and happiness are great. Being on autopilot or cruise control is the risk. You can be happy or content and still actively manage your career. If, however, you fall asleep at the wheel – you are likely to get passed over or become yesterday’s hero.
Work on these three areas to avoid the autopilot button. Stay in control of your career and destiny. Be deliberate and be relevant.
Do the work:
- Be 10% to 15% better at the end of every year than you were at the beginning. Invest in your skills, abilities, and knowledge. Don’t rely exclusively on “on the job” training to increase your skills. Get out front and proactively develop.
- Know where you want to be two moves out. Think about your career and try to anticipate where you want it to go. This doesn’t require promotions – you may want to work from home when you are a certain age or you seek an international assignment. Knowing where the next two “airports” are requires you to stay in charge of the flight and take the actions to get there.
- Work on your comfort with risk, vulnerability, and ambiguity. Don’t quietly move from driving your career to protecting it. Don’t “level off” too soon – yes the stakes get higher, but so too does the reward. If you don’t push and grow yourself – who will? Don’t let fear take over the cockpit!
Gone are the days when you get a job, do the time and receive a gold watch 30 years later. Today’s careers are vibrant, dynamic and come in an infinite array of shapes, sizes and options. Be the pilot – keep navigating your career. It takes more effort, but it’s the only way to truly enjoy the flight!