by Drew Beamer
Growth is a strange thing. It can be both the easiest and most difficult part of your job. It can happen on its own or need a little push. It can be fun and challenging or it can be stressful and full of anxiety. Growth can show up right in your face or it can sneak on you months later.
Understanding growth is all about perspective. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you’re flailing hopelessly, waiting for something to catch you or slow you down so you can make sense of it all.
I’d like to explore five aspects of growth in this post. These examples stem directly from my job in advertising, but I would imagine they apply to just about any career.
1. Chickity-Check Yo Self
There are so few things in your life that you have complete control over, but your attitude and impact on your work environment is one of them. I’ll start this section off by saying that I forget this daily. I let the “Me” thoughts through when the “We” thoughts are what I should be projecting. It’s something I’m working on.
We have control over how we show up to work, how we approach a project, how we deal with a less-than-ideal client situation, or even how we handle difficult people that we work with. Growth in this area isn’t easy. We’re inherently self-centered in our thoughts. It takes a lot of practice to calm that 5-year-old inside and bring the adult to the table. The “We”—the team, the work, the company, the client—is so much more important than the “Me” that we all have inside. If you can remember that, then you’re already on your way to gaining the critical perspective that we’re all seeking.
2. Know Thine Peeps
Unless you’re involved in the hiring process, you probably don’t have much control over who you work with, which means you’ve got some work to do. In order to get the best results from your relationships at work, you have to know your team.
Knowing your team isn’t possible if you don’t spend time with them. If you don’t know that they’re a natural introvert or that they’re easily distracted, then you won’t know how to make the most of what they have to offer. You don’t have to be best friends (sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts) but you do have to understand one another.
Sometimes this knowledge comes from conquering difficult assignments together, from company-initiated events (which I highly recommend), or simply through small snippets of personality that are gathered over a long period of time. Just keep in mind that the sooner you know them and they know you, the sooner both of you can start to push each other to grow.
3. Embrace The Chaos
The work we do is messy. It’s complicated. It’s subjective, and it’s difficult to comprehend sometimes. But as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
The tv spot, the outdoor board, the website, the integrated campaign… these aren’t the work. They are the results of the work. They are the delicious steak that resulted from the proper raising of the cattle, the honed skills of the butcher, and the culinary experience and education of the chef. The work is what comes before the thing you put in your book—that is where you should focus your efforts.
For me, this is where most substantial and recognizable growth comes from. It comes from difficult clients, new partnerships, and being pushed outside of your comfort zone. Lobsters are an excellent metaphor for this growth, as the amazingly bearded Rabbi Dr. Twerski explains.
I’ve learned that when you experience adversity in work, it helps to think back on successes you’ve had in the past. Remember the perfect tenderness of the final product and remember the work it took to get there. Then, snap back into the now and recognize that you are right in the throes of the work. Remember that you will make it through and that with time, all of the sharp edges will soften. The more you commit yourself to the chaos of your work, the more you benefit. You have to be willing to be exposed and to fail if you ever hope to succeed.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
4. Accept That You’ll Find Fame And Fortune—Just Not Yours
Clients come to you for ideas, for expertise, and for you to help them make money. As a creative, sometimes it’s easy to confuse your own goals and growth with theirs. Just keep in mind that clients aren’t there to bankroll your dreams, they’re there because they want your help to reach their goals.
In order to grow, it’s important to be able to recognize the small wins when they come along. The client won’t always love what you love or appreciate your work. In fact, most of your work will never see the light of day. Real growth comes from being ok with that and finding joy in the pieces or ideas that do make it.
So take the small wins for what they are, let go of the reigns a little, and recognize the nature of the relationship between you, the client, and the work. You’ll not only grow creatively, but your perspective and value to your company will grow as well.
5. Gettin’ A Little Somethin’ On The Side
In short, have a side project. I believe that there are two types of side projects with two distinct growth paths. One grows deep and the other grows wide. It’s the classic principle of the T-shaped person. If you haven’t heard of that, check it out here.
Side projects that involve only you will help you grow, but inwardly. For me, they have always been either the technical honing of a skill or study of our craft as creatives.
In contrast, side projects that involve more people and different skillsets will help you grow outwardly. These projects are great because they push you to look at the same problem from someone else’s core skillset or perspective. How would your partner approach your part of the problem? How would you approach theirs? Share your ideas, push each other, and have fun doing it.
Thoughts For The Road
Look at where you are. Are you growing? Are you stagnant? Are you reaching your goals too easily? Are you not reaching them at all? Do you even know what the the hell they are?
If you want to keep pushing yourself, think about your attitude, your partnerships, your work, your client relationships, and your side projects. Are there spots where you can reflect, evaluate, and improve? Chances are, that’s a yes. We all can.
At the end of the day, no one will care about your career, your skills, or your personal growth as much as you do. So get after it.