Stop Being so Fixated on Your Next Job Title

job title promotion

Have you ever quit a job because you did not get the promotion or title change that you wanted? I considered doing so myself in the past and know a few people who actually have. You start growing restless — convincing yourself that everyone else is “getting ahead.” In fact, you grow so restless that you become more fixated on the title than the work and your personal growth.

But here is a thing about getting ahead at work — it has nothing to do with your job title and everything to do with what you are working on and who you are working with.

The reality is that for a promotion to occur in a healthy organization, three key elements must be in place:

  1. The organization has a need for someone to take on a new role
  2. Someone has the right skills for the new role
  3. That person is interested in the new role

Now, I know that not all organizations are healthy. Unfortunately, more are drama-filled than drama-free. In these situations, people can become fixated on progressing through title promotions at a certain rate because that is what is valued in that culture. And of course, a shiny new title can always give you a nice confidence boost.

It might also bring a nice bump in salary. And I bet it would feel good to think that you might get more respect from your teammates. But once the novelty of the title wears off, all you are left with is what new challenges you can learn from and what value you can contribute to the team.

And this is where I often see people falter when angling for title changes. The motivation is misguided. You should be motivated to do good work because you are passionate about what you do and helping your teammates and company succeed. Tapping into this intrinsic motivation is how you find fulfillment and satisfaction at your job in a sustainable, ongoing way.

This is why it is not the next job title that matters — it is the work and what you bring to it every day.

So rather than putting the focus on titles, focus on meaningful growth. Here are a few ways to incorporate this thinking into your everyday work:

Set personal goals
Think deeply about what you want out of your life and career over the next 5–10 years. Not the salary or title you are aiming for, but rather the kind of work you want to be doing. Maybe you want to become a people leader or master a certain skill set or area of domain expertise. Make this vision a reality by writing it down.

Understand what the team needs
You know what you want. Now you need to know what is expected of you. What does doing a good job look like? This is a question a lot of people fail to ask. Maybe you assume that you need to be focused on one area when really the organization needs you to dig into another. Talk to your leader about what is expected so you can bring real value to the team.

Work on awareness
Growth takes real self-awareness. We all have some blind spots in regards to our own skills and working style. You need to acknowledge that your perspective is limited to yourself. To get around this, ask your leader and teammates for specific feedback. What do they consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses? And where is there room to grow?

Develop skills
Consider the skills you need to gain to reach your goals and exceed those expectations. How can you develop more? I am always impressed by teammates who say things like, “I want to learn more about X. What can I do to grow?” Good leaders look for opportunities to help people grow — spurring on their own success as well as the success of the team.

Honor the now
Instead of always wishing for the future (that new title), focus on where you are right now. Whether you realize it or not, your current role likely has a lot to teach you — maybe it is a specific skill, how to become an effective leader, or even what not to do as a teammate. Your greatest accomplishments will come when you can stay gritty and focus on these lessons that are right in front of you.  

Happiness at work comes from pushing yourself to be better each day — not from a job title.

And here is the twist. When you push forward with this kind of intrinsic motivation, it might actually lead to a promotion. Not because you were fighting for one but because you came to work each day ready to put forth your best effort and contribute. And successful companies need good people like you to take on more responsibility.

Building a successful career and feeling materially and emotionally fulfilled has everything to do with your work and nothing to do with your job title.

What do you think of chasing job titles?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap and marketing planning software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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