Career 101 — Stop Growing Alone!
A smart prince he has all the answers. A wise prince has all the questions.
Early in your career, you might be a lone-wolf. You might find yourself focusing on your own work and your personal growth, and you don’t spend much time thinking about others.
This was the career development trap I found myself in as well. I was a software engineer and I was a good one, but I focused on my work, my growth, and I didn’t spend much time getting help from others.
Upon reflecting, some of this behavior was motivated by pure ignorance, not knowing that others could help me. Much of it though, was fueled by arrogance and insecurity. I was overconfident in my ability, telling myself I didn’t need help from others, and I thought that asking for help showed others that I wasn’t good at my job.
While flawed, this overconfident-mindset worked for several years. I was able to build some incredible apps and I found myself earning several promotions. It wasn’t until I was a Senior Software Engineer when I started to realize that others were growing faster than I was, and I was determined to learn why?
Asking for help led to faster growth!
It continues to amaze me that often, the logical approach doesn’t lead to the most optimal result. I used to think that if I asked for help, it meant that I wouldn’t be learning something by myself, that it would limit my growth.
Instead, I observed engineers, leaders, product owners, and so many other roles around me, excel, because they were not afraid to ask for help. You might respond with, “well, they didn’t learn in the process. They missed out on countless lessons on their path to the right one.” Sure, they didn’t learn what they would have by learning it themselves, but they learned something else, something more valuable in my opinion.
They often learn the right way to do something much earlier in their development instead of performing the less-optimal way for countless days, weeks, months, or years. They may not learn from their mistakes but rather, they spend more time practicing the right way to do something which leads to higher quality output and excelled learning.
They also develop stronger relationships with the people they get help from, which leads to access to their mentor’s network, who then provide new paths towards learning. This network-cycle of learning continues and it causes the person who is asking for help to learn must faster than those that don’t… or myself in this case.
People love to help, let them!
It’s true. People love to help other people. Early in my career, I thought I was being a burden if I approached someone and asked a question. It took me years to realize that for most people, it’s the opposite.
A recent example of when I observed this was when I was having a conversation with my friend who is researching his next company, and we were talking about product research. He follows a method where he talks to as many people as possible which requires him to ask a lot of people for help.
Our conversation centered around reaching out to people and I asked him, “Are people willing to sit down with you and help you?” His answer was an emphatic “YES!” He explained to me that he’s learned that people cannot wait to share with him what they know and they are excited to help!
While this example is focused on user research, the same applies to learn and grow within your role. When I started to reach out for help, I found that engineer after engineer willing to spend hours and days with me to teach me what they knew. None of them made me feel bad and they encouraged me to ask more, not less.
Even now, as a senior technology leader, the same lesson applies. Instead of reaching out to learn how to solve a programming problem, I am reaching out to leaders around me to ask how they might approach a team situation. I leverage them for role-playing scenarios.
I lean on them to learn how they might help the team through change. COVID caused us to transition from an in-person team to a fully remote team overnight. I connected with other leaders every day to discuss how they are approaching this change and helping their teams through this.
Tapping into the people around me has become the most valuable tool in my development tool belt. I encourage people I mentor to practice mastering this so that they can grow more rapidly should they try and grow on their own.
Asking for help leads to stronger relationships
A positive side effect I did not anticipate is the human connectivity that comes with being vulnerable and asking for help. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve formed some extremely strong bonds with the people I’ve come to call my career mentors. These people turned into some of my best friends. I’ve stood up at their weddings. Our kids play together. None of this would have been possible if I didn’t change my mindset and learn how to ask others for help.
Stop growing alone, ask for help!
I learned that I was career overconfident and that I thought I could do this alone. It took me entirely too long to realize that I was limiting my growth and missing out on forming lasting relationships with people I now call friends. Don’t make the same mistake I made, get over yourself, and start leaning on the people around you to help you grow… they’ll be excited you reached out!
Technologist, leader, writer, and I created BuildBetterTeams.org to help new tech leaders be better leaders and build awesome dev teams! #LeadershipLife