S#!t, I Didn’t Get Promoted. So… I Stayed Put.

Once upon a time, I sat down for my yearly performance review and received some tough news. The promotion I had been expecting — that I deserved, that I had spent the last 12 months battling for — wasn’t coming. The review itself was positive, focusing on the impact I’d made and the many accomplishments I’d achieved. Heck, I even got a healthy raise for all my hard work. But none of that mattered, I left that review ready to quit and take my talent to another company, where it would be appreciated and rewarded.

But then something strange happened — I decided to stay.

Why stay? I’ll get to that, but first let me give you a little background. I started a career in Product Management straight out of business school and found it to be a surprisingly great fit for my personality, my passion and my skills. Almost immediately, I was receiving accolades, raises and promotions that pushed me into new and ever-more-exciting challenges, and each time I was able to take on a new challenge, build new skills and exceed my own expectations, I was rewarded with a sense of purpose and accomplishment that fueled me to work even harder. I was great at my job and I loved the work I was doing.

But things changed, as they so often do. I still loved my work — I still love my work — but as my title and responsibilities grew, the challenges in front of me seemed so much more foreign, so different from what I had spent the last several years figuring out I was great at. And that terrified me.

Like a golfer who has lost his swing or a baseball player who finds himself in a deep slump, I was terrified that I’d never get the magic back that had once made me exceptional or, worse, that I had been mediocre all along and somehow fooled everyone else.

So I worked hard, driven by fear rather than fulfillment, focusing my energy and my mind on “fixing” my weaknesses rather than leveraging my strengths. I also obsessed over the looming review deadline believing that, if I could get promoted, maybe it would prove my value and my ability to me and to those around me.

And then I didn’t get promoted.

With so much pain in the world, I know it sounds incredibly self-involved to say I was devastated — but I was devastated. I had lost my identity, my purpose and a future career that once felt certain. I was lost. But with a few weeks of distance from the performance review, and with the help of an exceptional career coach, I realized that the right thing to do — for me — was to stay right where I was, and here’s why:

  • Leaving “angry” can lead to bad career decisions: If you can avoid it, never leave your job to find “anything but this.” Odds are, you aren’t going to be discerning about the opportunity and its fit for your career goals and your skills and interests. Find a job that challenges you, advances you and requires the skills you bring to the table. Had I followed my “cut and run” instinct, I’m afraid I would have ended up somewhere that wasn’t a fit — further delaying my career growth ambitions.
  • Starting a new job with low self-confidence is bad for everyone: New roles, new challenges, new people and new companies require confident — and sometimes aggressive — decision-making. Taking on a new job in a new environment while questioning your own abilities is a recipe for disaster! Don’t do it. Let’s face it, I needed to get my mojo back before I moved on to something new, or else I likely would have burned out and wasted everyone’s time in a new role.

Put simply: feeling self-confident, fulfilled and motivated is easy in the good times, but times aren’t always good — and I still needed to prove that I could handle tough times, or else I’d struggle no matter what company or role I was in. And times were certainly tough where I was, so I stayed put. And I followed three simple rules:

  • Give 150% and focus on your strengths: First, commit. If you’re not going to commit to growth, change and the decision to stay put, you’ll never succeed. Then, if you’re giving 150% anyway, think of how much more impact you’ll have focusing on the things you’re great at instead of worrying about improving your weaknesses. Recognize that you may be bad at some things, and let those things go.
  • Inspire those around you: At the end of the day, take pride in how you do your work. Work ethically, give your time and focus generously to others, and keep perspective. No one succeeds alone, so lift others up and they will return the favor. There are so many things about work and career that are outside of my control, but the attitude and energy I bring to the workplace is something I can own completely.
  • Set goals that motivate you and celebrate your wins: It’s ok to want and work towards a promotion or a raise, or to desire money, fame and recognition, but don’t mistake desires for goals. Goals should be set around personal growth, career experiences, networking, gifting and volunteering, mentoring, or learning. Remember what inspires you to do your best and work harder — and find opportunities to do those things in abundance. And don’t forget to celebrate with a glass of Scotch, a nice dinner, or time with family and friends every time you set a goal and exceed it. Treat yourself and enjoy the journey.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I battled back from the brink of defeat — and am more confident, more self-aware, more focused and more productive than ever before. For me, staying put was the opportunity I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of overcoming any obstacle. It was also a chance to prove the skeptics around me wrong. Back to sports analogies: when a batter is slumping, you don’t let him sit one out, you get him back to the plate. Re-establishing dominance and reminding yourself of your strengths and technique are the keys to gaining enough confidence confidence to overcome the next challenge, and the one after that — and we’ve got a long season, and hopefully a long career, ahead.

…but, of course, sticking with a job and working through career challenges has its downsides, too. More on that next time.