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5 Levels To Professional Breakthrough — Stop Waiting And Build Your Own Career Path

I spent my childhood listening to the sounds from the nearby factory. A stream of smoke pillared towards the sky day and night.

My hometown based its economy on the industrial complex — Timber in, paper out.

Nope. Its not my home town factory on this pic :)

Very early, I knew that working on an assembly line of a factory wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with computers instead. So, I became a software professional.

Not long into the career with software, I found myself in a new kind of trouble. I had become a part of the software industry and just another assembly line.

Anyone who’s ever gotten laid off or fired understands how assembly lines work. Useless parts get tossed. Inefficient parts get replaced. It’s even possible to receive an e-mail that says, “you don’t need to come on Monday.” That happened to me.

Regardless of their domain, professionals I meet have often settled. I see this in very personal messages I receive from people around the world. I see this in the workshops that I do. And I even can see it with clients that I meet.

But what do I mean by settling?

I believe there are five kinds of professional work. Judging by what I’ve seen, many are stuck on level 1. They have settled.

Level #1: A Gear in a Machine

Most careers start here, and it’s ok. Professional life works like a ladder, and usually, there are no shortcuts to higher handles.

To get on the ladder, you start from the one you can reach.

The only problem is that too many careers get stuck on the first level.

Level 1 is part of an industrial assembly line, just like in that pulp factory of my hometown.

The good news is that on this level, you don’t need to worry. Someone else brings you the gig. You don’t need to market yourself or sell your services.

You only do the job. Leave at five and get paid for whatever the average salary is.

The bad news is that you are generic. And while you may not need to worry, you should. When the economy turns, or the business falters, who gets the boot first?

Stuck on level 1, you are replaceable. Downsizeable. Optimizable. Automatable.

This entire post aims to help you figure out how you could take that next step and maybe reach for the next ladder with a conscious effort to become more!

It would feel awesome to one day receive a message telling a story how a post like this sparked an epic series of professional breakthroughs.

Level #2: The Handyman

I love snowboarding. So in the winter, I often make a weekend trip to Finnish Lapland. The drive takes about 5 hours. On Friday nights, when I drive, there is only one gas station that is open on the whole road.

If I need the toilet or snacks, that’s the place to do my pitstop. It’s handy.

The Handyman gets the job because she is handy. She just happens to be in the right place and at the right time. Simultaneously, she happens to have the skills that someone else needs, and there happens to be little competition. So the Handyman gets chosen for the job.

Level #3: The Craftsman

The Craftsman has fallen in love with what she does. Because of the passion for the craft, she becomes a little better than others.

The Craftsman gets picked when she is handy and at the same time rises enough above the average.

Level #4: The Noteworthy

The Noteworthy professional is unique. She is one and only. And because of it, she gets asked to do the job by name.

The Noteworthy has a reputation that trickles to spaces where she isn’t even present.

Being The Noteworthy is not easy, but it is worth it.

It requires daring, sweating, and skill development outside of the core. It takes things like attitude, passion, energy, coachability, going the extra mile, being prepared, and an unmatched work ethic. It can even require focusing on things like re-inventing the body language and finding your voice.

All of these things are an investment with uncertainty.

There are no certain rewards and certainly not upfront ones. But usually, with consistency and time, the rewards increase way above the norm.

Becoming The Noteworthy is a journey that may not feel safe or comfortable. But on that journey, you will build an asset that creates safety and comfort. With this asset, you generate options for your career; you become someone who would be missed by clients, colleagues, and bosses if you were to leave.

Level #5: The Outstanding

The Outstanding professional does work and delivers results that are far beyond the norm. She works in ways that significantly stand out from the rest. For that, she will be criticized and praised in public.

Work on The Outstanding level gets talked about because it’s WORTH talking about! It’s worth the second mark. Remarkable. Unmistakeable.

Often reaching this level takes exceptional customer service skills, no matter if it’s the clients, colleagues, or bosses you’re serving.

When you are The Outstanding, your reputation builds with the story that other people tell about how you work, how you communicate, how you appear, and how you deliver.

The rewards on the Outstanding level are drastically disproportionate to all of the rest.

So now is the time for you to decide.

Are you someone who just does a job and settles, or are you someone who decides to climb and reach for the next ladder?

The Tool

Here is a tool to use if you choose to level-up or wish to share the idea with someone else. Take out a sheet of paper and walk through the following steps in writing. Don’t try to perfect it; just keep that pen moving!

Step 1: Tell The Truth

Tell the truth to yourself. Where are you really on this five-level ladder? What’s the next reachable ladder for you?

Step 2: Set Your Aim

How high do you want to climb these five ladders? Why do you want it? What will you do with it when you reach it?

Step 3: Pay The Price

What price are you willing to pay to reach the level you desire? What are you ready to give up? What emotions do you need to endure to succeed?

Step 4: Build Assets

What skills, resources, habits, and beliefs do you need to build to make the next level unavoidable? What relationships should you develop? Can you even get a mentor or a coach?

Step 5: Take Action

Only consistent action will take you there. Reflect on your answers and look at step 4. Is asset building on your calendar? If not, make sure you put it there and commit to it!

P.S. Are you a software professional committed to become more? Check out the crazy end of year offer of my Storytools of Testing -book! — The ideas in will totally be worth it!

P.P.S. Did you find this post useful? Tap that clap and please share the message.

Today the world doesn’t need your fear or your worry. Now, more than ever, it needs the best version of you!

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