Resisting growth is sometimes better

Growth can lead to unhappiness:

In an earlier article titled “Growth can lead to Unhappiness” we saw an example of a person who had sacrificed happiness for aggressive growth in his career. He had sought promotions every couple of years or so, unmindful of his readiness for the new positions. After getting into leadership/managerial positions, he had only too eagerly given up technical work – deeming it lowly, hands-on work, meant for juniors – without bothering to master leadership and management skills. As a result, he had eventually reached a ceiling – a level of incompetence, so to speak – that he was unable to cross. His job had become frustrating because he had lost respect of his team members.

How should we handle growth then? Should we simply refuse to grow? Should engineers remain engineers all their life? Should we leave our careers entirely to our bosses?

Growth as a success factor

Careers and professions are closely linked with the word “success”. All of us want to be successful in our careers. And we consider professional growth to be an important factor of success. Well, many times in life, we have to question our fundamental assumptions, and the above assumption could be one to be questioned! But, let’s do the questioning later. For now, we will stay with the stated assumption and explore ways to reconcile growth aspirations with happiness.

We have an excellent context to check whether growth (as a success factor) does always include or imply happiness. One could follow the path of Sam (in the other article), be successful in the short term (by collecting accolades and money), but end up with dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Srikanth, the indefatigable programmer

Srikanth joined a large product company as an entry-level programmer. He loved programming and got plenty of it at his new workplace. With time, he got better at it, and his product group came to depend on him for reliable and efficient code. Testers started calling upon him whenever there were intricate issues that they could not analyze. Senior managers started going after ambitious product release calendars trusting that people like Srikanth would help them meet the deadlines.

Srikanth became a mentor for other new programmers. Occasionally, he participated in formal training, but mostly, he coached budding programmers through the company’s special interest groups, and through informal interactions. He was approachable and kind. He was diligent in the code review process and gave verbose feedback. Those who took it seriously benefited immensely. Company executives started sending Srikanth to industry expos to baby-sit their product booths as a “technical expert”.

Resistance to “growth”

They also encouraged Srikanth to take on team/product leadership responsibilities. But, he refused to take on any official “lead” duties. He did not know whether it was good or bad to become a “lead”, but he knew with certainty that coding was fun. He also knew that he would get to do less coding if he took on management responsibilities. So, for 10 long years he remained a programmer while people who had joined at the same time as he had, became product managers and even directors in the fast-growing organization.

The company claimed that it did have a separate growth track for the so-called “techies” like Srikanth: he got plenty of pay raises and bonuses. But, his title did not go beyond “senior programmer”. He probably also missed out on lucrative incentives like stock options and grants which were doled out liberally to the manager types. In social gatherings, he did not attract the same respect or attention like the “managers” and “directors” did. In conventional terms, he wasn’t successful; people thought he was still a “struggling” programmer.

Growth is a matter of perception

Fortunately for Srikanth, he couldn’t care less about what the world thought about his career growth. He knew he was happy and it was all that mattered to him. He knew he was comfortable with the money he was earning, and that’s what counted. The girls loved his 2-seater coupe and didn’t care about his title!

This story might seem to contrast growth and happiness. Srikanth was happy in his professional career although the worldview was that he was not successful. Right there, you will find an insight about happiness and success. Happiness is what you feel inside yourself, and success is (typically) how others measure you against some conventional standard (which most of us believe in by default, unfortunately!).

Success and happiness are very tricky ideas when it comes to professional growth. Remember, we are not even talking about work-life balance here. We are simply discussing how to be happy when we are at work day after day and year after year.

The key to tasting an optimal blend of success and happiness in matters related to professional growth is to become self-aware – you must try to understand yourself, your nature, your true passions and calling, what sort of activities make you happy. A professional coach or a mentor can help immensely in this process of creating self-awareness and charting a course through the jungle of corporate ladders, career options, and potentially insidious concepts like “living in the fast lane”.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nihar on October 5, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Nice post. completely agree with Abhay.

    Can you add a LinkedIn share button as well? More relevant audience to share this article with 🙂

    Reply

  2. Thanks Nihar. I have added the linkedin share button as per your suggestion. Feel free to share …

    Reply

  3. […] part 3 of the series on Growth and Unhappiness. Before reading this article, please read part 1 and part 2 for the sake of […]

    Reply

  4. Posted by Mr. Kiran N. Mehta on December 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

    While acknowledging brevity constraints of a precept validating write-up such as this, some thoughts on career ‘ananda’ (satisfaction) I’d like to underscore particularly with that readership which is actually deciding whether to direct their careers onto the path that Srikanth took or onto that of the relatively ‘sukhi’ (successful) managers:
    I) The notion of inherent growth (in the passing sentence “He also knew that he would get to do less coding if he took on management responsibilities.”) should be pondered upon—algorithms, concurrency, patterns, compilation and standards, tooling, participation in (public) technical discussion groups, being the typical callings a few years into the life of a so-to-speak coder, ought to be recognised as what one may be bidding goodbye to, given the want of a more descriptive designation than “senior programmer.”
    II) Insecurities are the ubiquitous Yamadoots (killer agencies) for coders aspiring to the path of a senior programmer. Don’t take my word for it but only a little spiritual quotient is required to see the futility of any kind of insecurity, financial or otherwise. If you are suffering from that ailment, “get IDEA!”

    Reply

  5. […] we saw how the reckless pursuit of career growth (i.e. promotions) can cause anguish. In part 2, we read about the example of Srikanth who refused to grow into leadership and management positions […]

    Reply

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